The waters around Guernsey’s Bailiwick are rich in marine life, including numerous species of whales, dolphins and porpoises. While it has always been possible to see these animals there has been a notable increase in cetacean sightings over recent years, with bottlenose dolphins seeing a particularly large spike in appearances.
The DolFin project was set up in Guernsey in 2019 to better understand the abundance and distribution of different cetaceans within the bailiwick and collects public reports of cetacean sightings alongside conducting regular volunteer surveys at land and sea.
The project originally started within the Guernsey Biological Records Centre, and is now coordinated as part of La Societe Guernesiaise, following on from the previous monitoring and recording work conducted in the 90s and early 00’s by the Guernsey Cetacean Society.
Core aims of the project
- To use sightings information to better understand the abundance and distribution of cetacean species in the Bailiwick, including identifying if there are patterns for their presence and locality.
- With focus on bottlenose dolphins: to use sightings footage as in the development of a Fin ID database. The dorsal fins of bottlenose dolphins are unique to each individual; like fingerprints. Fin Databases can therefore identify local dolphins and can be compared with other databases compiled by regional cetacean monitoring groups.
- To educate the public on the conservation these species through talks, training and awareness campaigns, ensuring that encounters with local cetaceans are respectful.
Cetacean species found in the Channel Islands
Bottlenose dolphin (BND)
- The most frequently sighted cetacean in Bailiwick waters, BND are 3-4m in length with grey body and paler underside. Their bodies are very muscled, and faces feature a long beak. They commonly travel in groups of 10-20 and are often sighted bow riding from boats or playing. Seen throughout year, but more commonly in warmer months. In recent years pods are frequently sighted with calves and juveniles.
- A sleek and slender dolphin which is also frequently seen in Channel Island waters. The species are smaller than BND, reaching sizes of 1.7-2.5m. Their colouration features a dark blue back with year and gret hourglass patterning on flanks. The yellow colouration varies between individuals, put can be particularly vivid. They can travel in groups anywhere from 10-100’s of individuals. Pods of 70 or more have been spotted in Channel Island waters, but are more frequently sighted offshore.
- A large dolphin between 3.6-4m in length, with a very tall fin that can sometimes be confused with an Orca. The dolphins have pale grey bodies with notable scar patterns that increase with age. Older individuals can appear almost white. Their faces are fat, with a rounded melon and no beak. Seen in Channel Islands between July and November.
- Found throughout the year, harbour porpoises are the smallest cetacean in UK waters. Between 1.5- 1.7m in length, with a small triangular dorsal fin and rounded blunt face with no beak. Their grey colouration varies between individuals but normally features a darker back and pale underparts.
Long finned pilot whale
- A member of the “blackfish” family of dolphins. Pilot whales are very large dolphins 3.8-7.5m in length. They are distinguishing by a completely black body and flat face with bulbous melon and blunt beak. If seen breaching, colouration on underside features a white “bowtie” like patten. Sited frequently in the Channel Islands prior to 2004 – this species is now a rare occurrence in our waters. Now seen only in the offshore.
- Species including Minke whale, Humpback whale and Fin whale have all been sighted in Bailiwick waters, though these encounters are infrequent.
Other charismatic megafauna sighted throughout the Channel Islands:
- Species such as Bluefin Tuna, Grey seal and sunfish can be sighted throughout Bailiwick waters. Basking shark can also be sighted in local waters, though recent years have only seen sightings on rare occasions.
How you can help:
We would be grateful if any cetacean sightings within the Bailiwick are reported in to the project. In For your sighting we would like to know:
- species (if possible)
- approx. numbers.
If you have any photos or videos we would be extremely if you could send those in as they help us quality control sightings and allow us to understand cetacean interactions better. High resolution shots may even allow us to ID individuals!
Our email is DolFin@Societe.org.gg
Facebook group: Dolphin Spotting Guernsey