The windy watch - Bardsey Island Survey 2017

Another Bardsey Island (Ynys Enlli) field season is over, this time a little earlier than planned as the strong winds, some of which were over 50 mph, made it impossible for us to survey. However in the short time we were there we were treated to some dolphin delights.

The waters around Bardsey Island are important for a number of species, including harbour porpoise and Risso's dolphins. Our research has been integral to the recent designation of the West Wales Marine harbour porpoise candidate Special Area of Conservation (cSAC), which includes the waters around Bardsey. Our continued research is important to describe the distribution and habitat use of Risso’s dolphin and harbour porpoise in these waters, which is used to provide scientific information to underpin efforts to better protect these species and the marine environment.

This year we were also very fortunate to be joined by a team of researchers from Swansea University who were working in collaboration with us. They were conducting surveys into the different species that use Bardsey Sound, including deploying acoustic recorders that can record the dolphins and porpoises that use the Sound when we cannot scan, such as at night, in rough conditions, and over winter when we can’t be there. This important research will help fill gaps in our knowledge and build a better picture of how porpoises and dolphins use the area.

We arrived on the island at the beginning of September, to undertake our study into the Risso’s dolphin and harbour porpoise populations there. It was a fairly calm and murky day, but the Risso’s dolphins were around. In the late afternoon we were watching a group of Risso’s dolphins as they hung around off the west cost of the island, they put on a welcoming show for us with a number of breaches. We hoped that this was a good sign for the rest of our survey, but the weather had other ideas.

Risso's dolphins, Bardsey Island
Risso's dolphins, Bardsey Island

Soon the winds had picked up and the sea state rapidly deteriorated, along with the visibility. With the sea too rough to be able to see any harbour porpoise or dolphin fins in the sea, we were restricted to casual watching of patches of inshore waters, where we were lucky enough to see Risso’s most days, but weren’t able to get out in a boat to take photo-identification pictures due to the foaming seas.

When we couldn’t watch for dolphins, we helped out with the study on the breeding grey seal population that give birth on the island each autumn. We photograph the beautiful white-coated seal pups with their mothers, as the study aims to find out if females use the same sites each year for pupping. We are quite happy to sit and watch these beautiful animals many of which love posing for the camera!

Grey seal pup, Bardsey Island
Grey seal pup, Bardsey Island

Thanks to The Bower Trust and Swansea University SEACAMS, for funding us this year.

Read all about our Bardsey Island fieldwork, and why we study Risso’s dolphins and harbour porpoises in particular.

Enjoy this video footage of some of the amazing encounters we’ve had in the past.


I visited Bardsey three times in the late 70s/early 80s with my husband and two boys. My husband had been there previously in 1964 as assistant at the Bird Observatory. I have to say we did not record any cetaceans, but I don't think there was nearly as much awareness of whales and dolphins at that time as, happily, there is now. It is a beautiful place.

It was good to be at Bardsey Bird Observatory at the same time as WDC / Swansea University and to find out more about your work across the world. Vicki's talk in the old island schoolhouse was most informative and enjoyable. It was a shame the weather wasn't more cooperative but that's one of the hazards of west Wales and island life I guess... I admired your dedication! All the best with future research.

Hi George,

It was good to meet you on Bardsey, and I'm glad you enjoyed the talk and learnt more about the work we are doing there.

Best wishes


I know right!!!

Thanks for your blog and the research you did on this Bardsey Island.

What needs the distance to be for making good photo-identification pictures that you have to use a boat for it?
Can't it be done from the shoreline?


Hi Nick,

The distance for a good photo-identification picutre depends on the camera equipment used. It is certianly possible to take images from land, we have done this before, however you have to wait for the dolphins to come in close enough, and this only happens intermittently. By going out on a boat,we can carefully approach the animals and manoeuvre ourselves into the best position to get the images we need. We are only able to do this under licence from Natural Resources Wales (NRW), which gives us permission to get closer to the dolphins than the public are allowed, but we must follow a strict code of conduct to keep disturbance to a minimum.

Best wishes