RESEARCHERS at the Sea Watch Foundation (SWF), a nationwide research charity studying whales, dolphins and porpoises in the UK, have recently started to use drones to collect additional data and dive deeper into the behaviour of the local semi-resident population of bottlenose dolphins in Cardigan Bay.

While the main target species of SWF’s Cardigan Bay Monitoring project is the bottlenose dolphin, on its latest survey, the New Quay-based team had a surprise encounter with some unexpected visitors, a large pod of more than 40 common dolphins and could not resist trying to get some aerial footage of this fantastic encounter.

Despite their name, common dolphins are not seen as frequently as the local bottlenose dolphins being more at home in the offshore expanse of the Celtic Deep than the shallow coastal regions of Cardigan Bay, so spotting them so close to the shores of Cardigan Island came as a complete surprise.

“It was an amazing experience seeing them swim alongside and interacting right in front of us,” said SWF’s research assistant, Claudia Afeltra.

”Some of them even brought their newborn calves within metres of our bow. It was truly incredible and we believe this is the first footage of its kind obtained for this species in this area.”

At 2m, common dolphins are about half the size of the resident bottlenose dolphins and have a distinctive tan and grey hourglass colouration. They are very gregarious and in deeper, offshore waters can often be seen in groups numbering in their hundreds.

“Reviewing the encounter on the drone footage was really interesting,” said SWF’s monitoring officer, Katrin Lohrengel.

”Particularly with a group this big, it can be challenging to take detailed behavioural data but the drone lets us take another look at how they are interacting as a group. We have some lovely footage particularly of mums and calves.”

The team hope to collect additional footage of both common dolphins and bottlenose dolphins to shed more light on social interactions and group dynamics in the future.