Cardigan Bay, famous for Europe's largest pod of bottlenose dolphins, is also home to porpoises, seals, seabirds and other marine plants and animals. The area is a designated Special Area of Conservation.
Ceredigion's coast - a special area for Cardigan Bay marine wildlife
Ceredigion's coast has not one, but two Special Areas of Conservation. Home to the biggest population in Europe of bottlenose dolphins, the Cardigan Bay Special Area of Conservation (SAC) extends along almost 20 kilometres of coast and protects wildlife in 1000 square kilometres of the Irish Sea. The northern coast of Ceredigion is protected under the Pen Llyn and Sarnau SAC, and is also part of the Dyfi Biosphere area.
Atlantic Grey Seals like Ceredigion's secluded coves and sea caves, especially when the female 'cows' need peace to give birth and rear their young pups in autumn. Seals can often be seen from the coast path, especially around Mwnt, Cwmtydu and Bird Rock near New Quay.
Look out for gannets, the UK’s largest seabirds. With a six foot wing span, they make a spectacular sight as they dive for fish. The sea cliffs are also the haunt of Britain's fastest bird - peregrine falcons can reach speeds of 200mph. The cliffs at Mwnt, Bird Rock, and south of Borth are important sites for the rare red-legged crow, the chough.
How to spot dolphins along Ceredigion's Cardigan Bay coast
Patience is the key! There is no specific time or state of the tide when it is guaranteed to see marine mammals but calm sea with the sun behind you makes it easier to spot anything that is there. Look out for seabirds, particularly gannets, circling or diving into a patch of water. They are looking for fish, and often dolphins or porposises can be seen joining in the hunt. With the naked eye, scan the sea slowly looking for the dark blips of a dorsal fin, sun glinting off a surfacing wet body, or the splash of white water as behaviour becomes boisterous. if you spot one of these telltale signs, train your binoculars in that area so you are ready when the animal surfaces to breathe again.
There are several great places along the Ceredigion coast to spot dolphins, especially around headlands, such as between Cardigan Island and Mwnt, Aberporth, Ynys Lochtyn near Llangrannog, Bird Rock near New Quay and Aberystwyth harbour. Dolphins even come within metres of the harbour wall at New Quay. Look out too for Harbour Porpoises.
Wildlife Centres to visit along Ceredigion's coast
Visit the Cardigan Bay Boat Place to learn more about the Cardigan Bay Special Area of Conservation. Meet the team, and join them for a range of activities, including dolphin surveying and seashore safaris from May to September. The Wildlife Trust for South and West Wales has a base at the Cardigan Bay Marine Wildlife Centre in New Quay, with a programme of events and children's activities.
The Wildlife Trust for South and West Wales's Teifi Wildlife Centre is a great place to spot waders and other estuarine wildlife throughout the year.
The RSPB has a reserve at Ynyshir on the Dyfi estuary, where you can spot woodland birds as well as migrating birds and estuarine waders.
Nearby is the Dyfi Osprey observatory where you can watch the nest and the comings and goings of the spectacular 'sea eagle'.
Please remember that these birds and animals are wild, and that their habitat is protected. For guidance on how to enjoy the wildlife without disturbing them or damaging their habitat, check out the Ceredigion Marine Code or if you see animal that has been stranded, please follow these guidelines.