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Dolphin Watching In Wales

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When I was first told that you could watch dolphins from the Welsh coast I assumed the locals were having some sort of joke with me. Call me cliched, but when I think of animals west of Offa's Dyke I think of sheep. In fact I'd assumed that you'd have more chance of spotting a mythical welsh dragon than a real live dolphin.

It turns out, however, that my mind has been crudely corrupted by Hollywood, because dolphins, along with porpoises and whales, can be spotted in wet and windy Wales, not just some picture postcard vision of sunny Florida.

Cardigan Bay, which forms the baulk of Wales' west coast, is lucky enough to be one of only two areas in the UK where Dolphins are known to live and as their other habitat is the Moray Firth in Scotland, Cardigan Bay presents itself as the perfect destination for a weekend spent Dolphin spotting.

At least 130 bottlenose dolphins are known to live in the bay, rising to around 400 during the summer months. Travelling in packs, known as 'pods', the mammals can be easily spotted from land, especially when the tide is high, but many companies also organise boat trips taking you right out to sea.

Sightings are frequent all along the coast from Cardigan in the south to the Dyfi Estuary in the north, although the southern portion of the bay seems to be most popular and it's certainly where I've had the most luck with sightings. Although some dolphins remain all year around, the best time for a trip is undeniably April to September. Not only do more dolphins seem to be around during calm, sunny weather, but it also makes waiting on the cliff tops looking for a tell-tale fin much more comfortable.

New Quay, between Cardigan and Aberystwyth, is regarded as one of the best sites to spot from, with the New Quay lookout a favoured spot for land-based watchers and several companies offering boat trips. Boats also operate from Aberystwyth and Abertaeron, while the cliffs around Aberporth and Ynys Lochtyn near Llangrannog are also good for sightings.

My favourite place for watching the dolphins, however, is Mwnt, a tiny, national trust protected beach just north of Cardigan and the beautiful Pembrokeshire national coastline.

With a little bit of patience, I've always been lucky watching for dolphins from Mwnt. One of the most spectacular sites was when an entire pod of about 12 adults, complete with young, swam about 20 metres from the shoreline. For this reason, high cliffs are normally the best place to watch dolphins from, as they feel safe enough to come closer into shore.

Although the mammals may look friendly, don't, however, be tempted to try swimming with them, this really is the sort of thing best left to Free Willy. For a start you probably won't be able to get close enough to try and if you do, the dolphins won't welcome your presence, particularly if they are with their young. The dolphins in Cardigan Bay are very much wild animals, not trained performers, but then part of the beauty of the trip is watching them perform in their natural habitat.

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