Catch­ing sight of dol­phins is lucky in­deed


CLIFF BEN­SON, a di­rec­tor of the Wales­based char­ity Sea Trust, was steeped in luck ear­lier this month when he spot­ted a su­per­pod of dol­phins about ten miles off the Ir­ish coast in the Tuskar Rock area of Co Wex­ford. He was the right man in the right place at the right time.

He was dou­bly lucky in that it was a fine sunny day with a rel­a­tively calm sea and he was try­ing out his newly-ac­quired binoc­u­lars with built-in high def­i­ni­tion video cam­era. His video footage was screened by RTÉ and the BBC. It was one of those rare oc­ca­sions on which ev­ery­thing fell into place.

The sci­en­tific method of es­tab­lish­ing how com­mon dol­phins are is called ‘con­stant ef­fort watch­ing’. Vol­un­teers sit on a head­land and scan the sea for dol­phins for 90 min­utes. The ex­er­cise is re­peated from the same van­tage point at least once each month and over a num­ber of years the pat­tern of dol­phin ac­tiv­ity in the area emerges.

In ad­di­tion to land-based con­stant ef­fort watches from points around the coast, watches are con­ducted along lines at sea called tran­sects. Th­ese are the routes that ships fol­low be­tween ports. The Ross­lare Har­bour to Wales ferry route is a long es­tab­lished tran­sect.

Vol­un­teers from the Ir­ish Whale and Dol­phin Group mon­i­tor each month on Ir­ish Fer­ries ves­sels sail­ing into Pem­broke while col­leagues from the Welsh side do like­wise aboard the Stena Line’s Stena Europe su­perferry out of Fish­guard.

Most of the time small num­bers of dol­phins are recorded by the ded­i­cated sur­vey­ors but ev­ery now and again some­one hits the jack­pot. Dol­phins nor­mally live in small groups called pods each num­ber­ing a dozen or more of th­ese marine mam­mals.

When an abun­dant source of food is lo­cated sev­eral dif­fer­ent pods co­a­lesce into a large ag­gre­ga­tion known as a su­per­pod. The su­per­pod of Com­mon Dol­phins seen off the Tuskar on 9 Jan­uary was es­ti­mated to num­ber at least 250 and pos­si­bly up to 500 an­i­mals. Since the sea was boil­ing with jump­ing dol­phins an ac­cu­rate count was out of the ques­tion.

Data from ferry-based sur­veys to date show that dol­phins are reg­u­larly recorded in small num­bers along the Wex­ford/Wales tran­sect and that they are more plen­ti­ful dur­ing the warmer months of the year so to cap­ture a large su­per­pod on film in mid-win­ter on a calm, sunny day was pretty ex­cep­tional. The video may be ac­cessed on YouTube at and more about dol­phins at

The com­mon dol­phin.

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