by Stephen Savage, Mid Sussex Regional Co-ordinator of the Sea Watch Foundation
Sussex County Recorder for marine mammals

Whilst Sussex is not an area of high cetacean activity, non the less, 1999 yielded another batch of interesting dolphin sightings. Our first dolphin sighting came on the 11 April when a solitary Bottlenose Dolphin, Tursiops truncatus, was observed just east of Brighton Marina, 500 metres from the shore. The dolphin seemed to be interested in the activities of the Brighton Lifeboat that was training in the area. The dolphin raised its head several times and appeared to be watching the vessel before swimming away. Two further sightings were recorded for April, two of which occurred off Brighton and may have been the same group. On 14 April, a group of 3 dolphins were seen feeding 100 metres south of the Brighton Marina. On 15 April, a group of 2 possibly 3 dolphins were seen between the West Pier and the Palace Pier just 400 metres from the beach. Again, the dolphins were feeding and gull activity accompanied both sightings. A fishing vessel also reported 2 dolphins 16 miles off Beachy Head.

Calm Seas produce good Dolphin Spotting Conditions

During May the sea and weather conditions were the same as1998, sunny and calm. This makes ideal spotting conditions and again we recorded several sightings in this month. Steve Gates, (Fisheries Officer), reported a very interesting and detailed sighting to us on the 18 May. The fishing vessel encountered a group of 7 adult dolphins and one juvenile 2 miles off Littlehampton. The dolphins played around the vessel for about ½ hour. They split into smaller groups as they interacted with the vessel. Four dolphins played in the bow wave at one time. One dolphin turned on its back and swam upside down below one of the and deliberately soaked him by splashing with its tail! The behaviour seemed to be for fun rather than a sign of aggression. Afterwards, the dolphins continued their easterly heading. This sighting was made at l0.00 am. Later that day at 1.30 pm, a single dolphin was seen 250 metres of Worthing promenade and appeared to be feeding.

Harassment of Dolphins

On the 19 May a group of 5 or 6 dolphins were seen 200 metres offshore from Ovingdean Cafe, near Rottingdean. at 4.30 pm, and was observed by several patrons to the cafe over a period of about half an hour. The dolphins were travelling east towards the Brighton Marina and appeared to be following a slow moving motor vessel. Dolphins appeared to be two pairs and a single, but possibly 3 pairs. The dolphins were then approached by a motor vessel travelling at high sped and directly at the dolphins who responded by heading out to sea. This is a typical example of how not to behave around dolphins.

Harassment of dolphins by motor vessels has been recorded in other areas of the UK coastline, however, there is no reason why dolphins and motor vessels cannot exist side by side. Dolphins live in a world of sound, which is used for locating prey, detecting predators, communication and for building up an acoustic picture of their environment. Many of the sounds made by craft overlap the frequencies used by dolphins. If you are in a vessel and spot a group of dolphins, do not approach them directly but travel slowly on a parallel course, this way the dolphins are likely to break off and swim over to the vessel if they are interested. Do not change course or speed in an erratic manner as this may also alarm the dolphins. Slowing down quickly can also cause alarm.

Brighton & Hove Dolphins

A group of 9 or 10 dolphins seen near the end of the Palace Pier at Brighton on 27 May. On the 30 May, a group of 6 dolphins were seen just west of the King Alfred's Leisure Centre at Hove and were reported by the lifeguards stationed there. They were first seen at 11.15 am when they were milling around for about 20 minutes before heading east. As they headed east, fish were seen breaking the surface so they were probably feeding. The dolphins carried on past the West Pier where they were spotted by the staff and lifeguards based at the Sea Front Office. The dolphins were observed passing the Palace Pier and carried on and were last seen approaching the Brighton Marina. A group of 6 dolphins were later seen 3 miles south of Newhaven by fisherman. The dolphins played around their vessel.

Two sightings occurred in June, both near Brighton. On 11 June a group of 8 Bottlenose Dolphins were observed 7 miles offshore from Shoreham. 6 followed the vessel as far as the Brighton Marina, the other 2 were not seen again. On the 12 June a group of 6 or 7 Bottlenose Dolphins swam past the Palace Pier between 1 and 200 metres from the shore. The dolphins headed east and passed within 50 metres of the mouth of the Brighton Marina.

On the 15 July a group of 6 dolphins were observed 300 metres south west of the Palace Pier Brighton. They were first seen at 10.45 am and appeared to be feeding. They were seen in the same area for 20 minutes before disappearing (not seen which direction they headed).

The last confirmed sighting occurred on the 29 July. A group of 10 to12 Bottlenosed dolphins were seen one mile off Worthing Pier. They were first seen by the crew of the safety boat at 10.30 am and were observed for about an hour. The dolphins swam back and forth and even rode the bow wave before they eventually headed off in a westerly direction.

Eastbourne & Beachy Head Dolphins

The Eastbourne Regional Group, co-ordinated by Dave Rowlinson, also reported some fascinating sightings in 1999. The earliest record is of a large school of Common Dolphins, over 100 in number, 15 miles from the shore at Eastbourne. The dolphins were feeding on small fish and also bow ridding and leaping. The dolphins were observed for 10 minutes. This sighting is of great interest because of the number of animals involved and because almost all other sightings have been definitely identified as Bottlenose Dolphin.

On 14 May a group of 5 or 6 dolphins were seen heading west off Beachy Head (Eastbourne). A group of 8 to10 dolphins were seen at Pevensey Bay, about 300 metres from shore, where they stayed for about ½ hour before heading east. Four dolphins were seen on two occasions bow ridding with pleasure boats between the Eastbourne Pier and Wish Tower.

Two sightings were made regarding dolphins off Eastbourne on 11 June. The first involved 3 adults and a calf seen between the Pier and Beachy Head. The calf was observed playing with fish. Five minutes later, a group of 5-6 dolphins were seen 400 metres from the shore, circling for 15 minutes between the Pier and Wish Tower. Small herring were reported in the area and this may be what attracted the dolphins. Six dolphins followed a boat on the 18 June for an hour as it headed east, one mile from the shore.
A solitary dolphin was seen feeding amongst gulls diving into the sea on 3 July, 500 metres from the beach at Normans Bay. Mackerel were in the area. Three dolphins were seen near Eastbourne Pier on the 4 August and 6 dolphins were seen off Seaford on the 3 September.


At the end of 1999 we were awarded a grant through the Transco Grassroots Scheme to produce an education programme for local schools, which I will be working on through the winter months. The basis for the programme is UK cetaceans and will cover a wide range of topics about cetaceans as mammals, how they live in the sea, feed and so on. Through this programme children will take on the role of a scientist and learn about these fascinating mammals by using scientific techniques such as photo-identification and working with real data relating to Sussex dolphin observations.

We have also been awarded a small grant from Brighton & Hove Council to provide training for volunteers who will help in developing the group, providing more feedback to observers and helping to liaise with other organisations. This training will also provide useful information for volunteers who wish to help out at exhibitions and events.

Anyone wishing to know more should contact Stephen Savage, Regional Co-ordinator on 01273 424339.

The Sussex Regional Group is always looking for volunteers to help with their work. This includes; observations, helping at exhibitions, administration, fund raising. Other skills are also of great value such as artists and electricians.

For more information about the work of the Sea Watch Foundation in other areas of the country, please contact.

The Sea Watch Foundation
11 Jersey Road
0X4 4RT

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