Northern Ireland

Dolphins on display: BBC Newsline crew's footage of large pod off County Antrim coast

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Media captionThere is believed to be between 50 and 70 dolphins in the group that was filmed

We had gone to get one story, and found ourselves, quite by chance, in the midst of a breathtaking experience.

Cameraman John Anthony and I had been heading to Rathlin Island off the County Antrim coast on fast boats called ribs to do some work for a report next week.

We were with Joe Breen of the Department of the Environment's (DoE) marine division.

It was he and his team who told us about a large pod of dolphins that had been seen up the coast and asked whether we would like to try and get some pictures.

Image caption The BBC crew went out on boats with the DoE's marine division team in search of the dolphins

It was a bit of a gamble, but conditions were good, the sea was calm and the team thought we had a chance of success, so we decided to give it a go.

After an hour's journey we were just about to give up when one of the scientists suddenly saw splashes on the surface far off near Benone Strand, County Londonderry.

Leaping

The ribs quickly closed the distance as we cut speed and maintained a steady course, suddenly the show started.

First in singles and then in multiple groups the bottlenose dolphins began breaking the surface.

Initially they kept their distance, but soon they grew bolder and came right under the boat, riding the bow wave, leaping and twisting right in front of us.

Image caption BBC News NI cameraman John Anthony captured the stunning footage of the dolphins

It seemed everywhere you looked there were dolphins.

Cameraman John set to work, gathering as many pictures as he could.

He used the broadcast camera and a smaller one he had brought in a waterproof housing that he thrust under the waves as the dolphins skimmed past.

Breaching

Gary Burrows of the DoE had been skippering our boat.

He is regularly in the waters off the north coast and says this year there have been a lot of sightings of this pod, both from land and from boats.

Image caption Gary Burrows of the DoE said the dolphins had been spotted almost on a daily basis in recent weeks

He believes there are between 50 and 70 animals in the group we filmed.

"Over the last few weeks we've had them almost daily," he said.

"They're very, very active, they're feeding hard on mackerel and we've had lots of breaching behaviour.

"It has been wonderful, thousands of people over the last couple of weeks have had a view from boat and from shore of these wonderful animals."

Wonderful

They stayed with our boats for about 10 minutes, but then they tired of us and split up, some heading out to sea, others back to shore.

Gary said it was an unusually large pod we had seen.

Image caption It was a rough ride for BBC News NI correspondent Conor Macauley but certainly worth it

Typically you would expect to see between 25 and 45 of them together, so he believes this group may comprise several families.

And he had some advice for anyone on the sea who wants to try and have the same wonderful experience we did.

"The animals are certainly not shy, but they are vulnerable to disturbance.

"So while we really are encouraging people to have a fantastic view, we're also encouraging them to give the animals some personal space.

"Allow them to approach you on their terms."