Durlston Marine Project - FAQs
This varies from season to season and year to year. In 1996, our best year so far, dolphins were seen on 126 days - once every 3 days on average. The best months to see dolphins are generally April, May, October and November. The worst months are July and August, but even then it is worth looking out for them, as they're full of surprises!
Once again, the dolphins like to keep us guessing! We can't say whether the dolphins prefer to visit Durlston in certain weather conditions, but it is definitely easier to spot them on calm, cloudy days. On days when the sea is choppy, every wave starts to look like a dolphin, and sunny days you get dazzled by the sea!
Most of the dolphins sightings are of bottlenose dolphins, but we sometimes see common dolphins and pilot whales.
By taking photographs of the dolphins, we have been able to identify 5 bottlenose dolphins that were regular visitors between 1994 and 1999. We recognise them by the shape and colour of their dorsal fins (see below). We called them Nick, Bob, Lumpy, Spot and Echo, mainly due to the characteristics of their fins. Durlston was part of their territory or 'home range' until 2000 when they seemed to disappear! Since 2000, new individuals have been identified in the area, inlcuding the youngest calf ever to be seen here. The dolphins are also known to inhabit the waters off Devon and Cornwall, but are now regularly visiting Dorset as part of their 'home range'. We also see other dolphins and whales passing through the area at times, and we were even visited by a group of over 100 bottlenose dolphins in July 2001!
To answer this question we have tried following the dolphins in boats and aeroplanes, but we still don't have the answer! Dolphins are seen all along the Dorset coast and beyond, but unless we have photos of them, we can't tell whether they are the Durlston dolphins. In may 1997, Nick, Bob, Lumpy and Echo were snapped off Bembridge (on the east coast of the Isle of Wight), 25 miles from Durlston. And we certainly know that some of the new individuals spend a lot of their time off Devon and Cornwall.
This one is even trickier to answer, but we're doing our best! Dolphins spend less than 5% of their time at the sea surface (around an hour a day), and it's very difficult to work out what they're doing from the occasional glimpse of a fin. We think that the dolphins may come here to hunt for food such as fish, squid and cuttlefish, especially over the rocky reefs of Peveril Point, Durlston Head and Anvil Point. We use Durlston's under water microphone to listen in on the dolphins, and we are learning how to tell what they are doing from their calls.
Durlston Bay is quite a noisy place, especially in summer when there are lots of boats chugging and buzzing around. We use the underwater microphone to work out which noises might annoy or disturb the dolphins. The noisiest boats are motor boats with big engines, like divers' 'rigid inflatable boats' (RIBS) and speed boats. We are trying to find out whether the amount of boat noise is the reason that the dolphins are seldom seen in mid-summer.
The main pollution threats to dolphins are plastics (litter such as plastic bags and abandoned fishing nets) and toxic chemicals. The Rangers organise 4 beach cleans along Swanage North Beach and several in Durlston Bay each year to see how much litter is washing up from the sea. Much of the litter is plastic and could harm a dolphin if it ate it or got tangled up. We carry out surveys of the rubbish and work with the Marine Conservation Society.
All aroung the world, dolphins are suffering from the effect of commercial fishing. In Europe alone, thousands of whales, dolphins and porpoises die each year after getting stuck in fishing nets. Most years, several dead dolphins and porpoises are washed up on the Dorset coast, and many of them show signs of having died in nets. In Dorset, most of the fishing consists of angling, laying pots for lobsters and crabs and some use of nets. Fortunatley, none of these are likely to be a serious threat to our dolphins, and we think that some of the dead dolphins probably drift from the Atlantic Ocean.
As well as the Dolphin Watch, there are other exciting marine projects happening in the Durlston Marine Research Area, including underwater cameras and microphones to record life beneath the waves, and video cameras to record seabirds on the cliff face. One of the best ways to keep up to date with what is going on at Durlston is to become a Dolphin Adopter. As an adopter you will receive regular newsletters about the dolphins and be invited to special marine events!