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Playful and highly intelligent, the bottlenose dolphin fascinates a lot of people. Want to know where to find them in the UK?
Before we tell you the best spots for bottlenose dolphin sightings, let’s learn a few important facts about these adorable marine mammals.
What Are Bottlenose Dolphins?
Bottlenose dolphins, Tursiops truncatus, are one of the most popular species of marine mammals. They have a short, rounded and thick anterior rostrum (commonly referred to as beak) that resembles the shape of a bottle; thus, the name bottlenose dolphins. Their beak’s average length is seven to eight centimetres. Inside the beak are cone-shaped teeth, numbering 76 to 98.
Their body colour may range from light grey to black on the dorsal region (back part) and a lighter colour (white or cream) on the ventral part or the belly. Meanwhile, their average size ranges from 2 metres to 4 metres. Male bottlenose dolphins tend to be a bit bigger than females. Adults tend to weigh between 130 to 640 kilograms.
There are currently two recognised ecotypes of bottlenose dolphins: the coastal ecotype or the inshore form and the offshore ecotype or offshore form. In terms of body size, offshore ecotypes are larger than coastal ecotypes. They are darker in colour, too. On the other hand, a distinct feature of coastal ecotypes is that they have big flippers.
Compared to other species of dolphins, bottlenose dolphins live longer with an average lifespan of 50 years for females and 40 to 45 years for males. In addition, females reach sexual maturity earlier than males. It happens between the ages of 5 to 13 years for females and 8 to 15 years for males. Females can give birth up until they are 45 years old.
The gestation period for bottlenose dolphins is one year. Furthermore, mothers, along with other females in the group, suckle the calves for 18 to 20 months. During this period, the mother doesn’t breed. Sometimes, it may take six years before the mother bears another calf.
Bottlenose dolphins are social animals. They usually live in groups or ‘pods’ with a dozen to 25 members. Smaller pods tend to be more tight-knit, staying together for many years. While some members break away from the pod to form a sub-group, they eventually return to their core group. Pods are often formed based on sex or age, with females or those with the same age banding together. It’s also possible to see pods composed of females and their calves since the little ones stay with their mothers for an average of three to ten years.
One of the impressive things about bottlenose dolphins is their intelligence. They are able to communicate with each other through body language and a complex system of whistles. According to scientists, every dolphin has a ‘signature whistle’, just like what names are to humans, that can be used to identify him/her. To sense things around them, including their preys, they utilise echolocation. In a second, bottlenose dolphins can make around a thousand high frequency clicks. Apart from the object’s location, echolocation also lets dolphins know its size, shape and distance.
While they are still in abundance, there are ongoing efforts to minimise bottlenose dolphins’ injury and mortality. One of the leading threats to their existence is pollution. In EU, the bottlenose dolphin is a protected species. Currently, there are four Special Areas of Conservation (SAC) for bottlenose dolphins in Ireland and the UK.
Bottlenose dolphins reside in temperate and tropical waters. They are found all over the world – Japan, United States, Australia and Europe. What’s usually found in European waters are the coastal ecotype.
Where Can You Spot Bottlenose Dolphins In The UK?
One of the places in the UK where you could see bottlenose dolphins is Land’s End. Located in western Cornwall England, this area is a good place to spot bottlenose dolphins between the months of January and April (although their movements can be unpredictable). Other marine animals you can spot in the area are grey seals, whales and porpoise. You can view these animals atop the cliffs; however, you’d need to bring good binoculars and hope for excellent sea conditions.
Another place you could visit for bottlenose dolphin sighting is Lundy Island. Rich in marine life, the waters surrounding Lundy have been declared a protected area since 1971. Eventually, it became the first Marine Conservation Zone in the UK. The best time to spot bottlenose dolphins in this area is during the summer months. While travelling to the island via the MS Oldenburg, you may already see bottlenose dolphins as well as common dolphins, minke whales and harbour porpoises. If you want to view them from the cliffs, the South East coast of the island provides the best viewing points.
You may also go to Cardigan Bay, a European Special Area of Conservation, where over a hundred bottlenose dolphins reside. The best time to visit is between the months of April and October. In addition, the ideal time is during the early morning or evenings. The likelihood of seeing them is high during a calm, sunny weather. While you can view bottlenose dolphins from the shore, try the boat cruises to see them up close.
Image Attribution: By Gregory “Slobirdr” Smith [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons
Image Resource: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ACommon_Bottlenose_Dolphin_(Tursiops_truncatus)_-_Galapagos_(2225816313).jpg
Image Attribution: By Juan Gutiérrez Andrés (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 or GFDL], via Wikimedia Commons
Image Resource: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ALundy_Island_North_lighthouse.jpg