16 May 2014

Risso's Dolphins in Neath Port Talbot

© Darren Coombs
 At 11:10 today Darren Coombs and I sat down to do a bit of sea watching from Kenfig Dunes, our position was 500m south of the Kenfig Rivermouth. The visibility was good and with flat calm conditions it wasn't very long before a splash and very long dorsal fin caught our attention. Even though neither of us had seen this species before it seemed obvious that the fin must belong to a Risso's Dolphin. A couple of breaches later and a good side on view of the nearest animal, showed the very characteristic front-end profile.
Darren was able to take a very nice photo showing the distinctive dorsal fin profile. At this point the nearest Risso's was about 1.5km from our position and approx 1km offshore. After we first saw them they initially started drifting towards Sker Point, but later changed direction choosing a heading towards Swansea Bay.
In the above photo the Risso's is >2km offshore with breaking waves that must belong to a shallow sand bar or reef in the background. These waves can easily be seen from the coast during flat calm conditions, I imagine this offshore feature has a name? Sadly I don't know whether it does but would be keen to find out.
The lower photo shows one of the Risso's Dolphins heading back towards Swansea Bay and clearly inside NPT territorial waters! The animal is approximately 3-4km offshore at this point and the photo also shows a group of Herring Gulls in the foreground and another smaller group of gulls a little further back from the dolphin, to the left, which adds some scale.
There were at least 2 individuals that were seen breaching in the same field of view on a couple of occasions. Indeed, there may well have been as many as four Risso's Dolphins present when it seemed that Darren and I had very distant views of 2 breaching Risso's Dolphins in different parts of the bay. However, it was difficult to be certain of this. The behaviour of the dolphins initially suggested (to me) that they were foraging, but when they were distant their behaviour showed far more social interaction. A full breach was noticed once with some only marginally less impressive splashy breaches seen more frequently. There was also some repeated body-slapping by one individual that can be best described as multiple belly-flops.
I've seen some decent stuff over the last few years locally but seeing Risso's Dolphins in this area is something I would never have dreamed of. It was just incredible.


Caroline Gill said...

I lived in Swansea for 20 years and never heard of a Risso sighting like this there before.

Neil Donaghy said...

Having just read up on this Mark and noting a lot of cuttlefish on the beach this morning, I wonder if these animals were following their favoured food source and that's why they were off Kenfig Sands?

Anonymous said...

Nash sands , can be seen at low tide

Whales in Wales said...

Hi Guys Risso's seem to have been featuring around the Pembrokeshire Coast all winter and into May the group sizes have varied from 3-4 to circa 14. It would be no more than a days steady swim for Risso's to move around to you! allthingsgood, cliff Benson Sea trust