Cardigan Bay is perfect home for bottle nosed dolphins
The waters along a 60-mile stretch of mid Wales' coastline have provided the perfect breeding ground for Europe's largest population of bottle nosed dolphins.
Cardigan Bay in Ceredigion is home to 250 of the playful creatures and, as the area marks National Dolphin Day, they are a popular tourist attraction.
Dolphin experts in New Quay say the bay has shallow waters and plenty of food.
It means the mammals, who can live to 30, remain in the bay permanently.
The Sea Watch Foundation in New Quay tracks the dolphins in Ceredigion over their lifetime.
"One of the main reasons they stay here is they have a very nice place to play, breed and have all the food they need to get by," said scientist Dr Salome Dussan-Duque.
Reasons to stay
"We're talking about prey like mackerel and sardine-sized food. The conditions in the bay are good for them to teach their calves to catch in the shallow area. They can play and teach them how to eat."
Dr Dussan-Duque said an ideal place to breed and a bountiful food resource were the two most important factors for dolphins.
"That's two reasons for them to stay somewhere," she said.
"It means they are there all year round."
Scientists at the foundation are able to track the dolphins without using tags.
"Their dorsal fins have marks that develop over their lifetime," Dr Dussan-Duque said.
"Dolphins are born with clean fins that develop nicks and notches over time which are like a fingerprint and unique, so we use them for identification."
National Dolphin Day is always an important time of the year for dolphin watching boat trips.
"We're very lucky... we have had so many tributaries running into Cardigan Bay itself that we have many fish and good feeding for the dolphins," said skipper Dafydd Lewis.
"It's a very shallow bay and we do tend to believe it could be a good nursery ground for them to raise their young dolphins.
"We see the same ones visiting every year... we have over 250 that have been identified and on average we have three to four calves born here every year."
Fellow sailor Steve Hartley said the number of tourists keen to see the dolphins in the last few years had increased.
"People enjoy being able to see these iconic creatures in their own environment, watching from a boat provides visitors with the perfect opportunity for a close encounter with these animals, who often choose to come close to the boat," he said.
Among the 30 beaches along the coastline, the dolphins can be seen feeding inshore at Mwnt and New Quay.
"On top of that we have one of the most wondrous examples of natural wildlife with our dolphin population," said Ann Eleri Jones from Ceredigion council.
"There isn't a much better site than watching these beautiful creatures leaping and frolicking in the sea in Cardigan Bay."