Sea Watch Foundation

Monitoring marine mammals in Cardigan Bay, Wales

When I was younger I wanted to be a dolphin trainer (like most kids probably) but as I got more interested in biology and conservation through school I realised it would be much more fun to work with dolphins in the wild. I was therefore delighted to receive the opportunity to do so between my undergraduate and master’s degrees by way of conducting an internship with the Sea Watch Foundation in New Quay, Wales.

This was one of my shorter research experiences being only 6 weeks but it was thoroughly enjoyable. The work was a mixture of land-based work (surveys from the harbour, running the visitor centre, engaging with the public) and boat-based work (dedicated transect surveys and spotting from the tourist boat tours). There was also a lot of desk-based work, as there always is with conservation, consisting of organising all of the data, verifying cetacean sightings around the UK and identifying individual dolphins in photos from unique markings on their dorsal fins.

Each dolphin has a unique pattern of markings made of notches, scratches and/or pigments on their dorsal fins. (C) Beth Smith/Sea Watch Foundation

One of my favourite tasks was using the hydrophone (an underwater microphone) to record dolphin noises when we encountered them during the boat surveys. This entailed leaning over the edge of the boat holding the hydrophone in the water by the dolphins, like so:

A pretty great moment using the hydrophone!

Another amazing task was using the underwater Go Pro to video the dolphins from the boat. It’s pretty tricky to get good footage, especially if the water isn’t clear but this video was probably my best attempt. You can see the odd dolphin swim past and you can hear their whistles and squeaks pretty clearly. Enjoy!

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