Sitting on the cool stone of New Quay harbour and although a strong breeze tugs at coats and hats, the greyish green ocean in front on me is relatively calm with just the occasional little crest of white tipping a wave. The wind is coming off the land, sheltering the coastal waters from its ire that I know only too well can cause problematic sea watching conditions. To my left the coast curves quickly to a rocky point before disappearing round the corner. To the right the rugged Welsh coast curves broadly away, shrouded in hazy rain clouds. Rolling waves from a moderate swell, the real hint that the wind is stronger than it appears, crash onto the shore adding to the haze of the drizzle. Where they break over a shallow reef white spray is thrown into the air. Next to a black marker bouy among the grey waves dark bodies break the surface and a shiver of thrill goes through me. Bottlenose dolphins! After munching through the obligatory portion of chips we climb aboard a boat and head away from the harbour wall. Of course we did not have to go far to see dolphins! But we did not steam over to the dolphins, charging in to see them at close quarters. There is a code of conduct for all sea going vessels in these waters that is designed to protect marine wildlife like these enigmatic dolphins. We sit and watch from a distance as the group continues to hunt before starting to breach high and clear of the water, twisting and leaping over each other clear as day even from our distance and bringing grins of happiness to the faces of those on board.
We decide to head off and see what other wildlife we can find, leaving this group to their fishing and leaping. We are only just round the headland when the boat engine cuts and we come to an abrupt stop, bobbing up and down in the swell. The skipper has seen something just ahead. Suddenly in a burst of water a large dolphin appears out of the waves close to the boat. Then another appears, a little further away, with such distinctive white markings on the back and dorsal fin that the guides are able to immediately say this is a known individual called Ghost. The first dolphin starts breaching backwards out of the water, slapping its body down against the waves, an action in this case the team believes is linked with hunting.
We continue on, buzzing from two sightings of dolphins so early in the trip. We hug the coastline, keeping out of the swell offshore and admiring the coastal geology, the numerous sea birds including the scavenging herring gull affectionately known as ‘Steven Sea Gull’ and the new grey seal pups resting high up on small stoney alcoves, waiting for their mum’s to return and feed them. The sea remains a greyish green and despite things brightening above us the horizon remains a brooding dark purplish blue.
We are not quite at the headland shaped like a crocodiles head that is the traditional turning point for these trips when it’s me who shouts ‘dolphin’. Once more the boat stops in its tracks and we watch as around us at least four dolphins surface. They are busy feeding, searching for fish, surfacing near to the boat and then closer to the shore, working the area.
It’s soon time for us to leave and head for harbour. Again we hug the coastline, revisiting some of the haunts we saw on the way. There is one notable difference, the wind. It drops away with the sea becoming smoother so that the boat is only rolling from the swell. I cannot see the dolphins by the marker as we come into the harbour and alongside. But back up at the car and one last look turns into 15 minutes more as once again the dolphins are there working their way around the reef and across the bay. This time it is not them that leave us but us that have to leave them.