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

Dolphin observations have been very good for the Sussex region for 1998, 21 detailed sighting in all. 21 observations may not sound a great deal, but these sightings have all been recorded by trained observers and contain sufficient data for them to be included on the Sea Watch Foundation's National Whale & Dolphin Database. We also receive anecdotal sightings that are of interest on a local level, but are not sufficiently detailed to be included on the database. It is when our sightings are plotted as part of a much bigger picture, the English Channel, that their importance becomes apparent.

Bottle-nosed Dolphins

The species that we usually observe is the Bottle-nosed Dolphins, Tursiops truncatus, and most sightings this year have been definitely identified as this species. Most are shore-based sightings involving dolphins as close as 50 to 200 metres from the shore. Our first sighting was recorded on the 15th March involving 6 dolphins and occurred off the coast at Littlehampton in West Sussex.

With the hot weather and calm sea in May came a batch of five sightings between Worthing (West Sussex) and Brighton (East Sussex). Most sightings involved groups of 2 or 3 dolphins. A sighting was also recorded for Littlehampton and another at Hastings (East Sussex). These seven sightings occurred between 10th and 18th  May. A further sighting was recorded at Eastbourne (East Sussex) on 22nd May.

July saw three more inshore sightings at Brighton with an average group size of 4 dolphins. We were delighted to discover that two of these sightings involved a juvenile accompanied by adults. In August, two sightings occurred off the coast at Shoreham-by-Sea (between Worthing and Brighton). Again, one of these sightings involved a juvenile. The young dolphin appeared to be just over half the length of the accompanying adult. The second of these two observations involved a group of 4 or 5 dolphins that rode the bow wave of the Shoreham lifeboats.

Three offshore sightings occurred at Eastbourne and again one sighting involved a juvenile. The first sighting occurred on the 12th August and involved a group of 3 or 4 dolphins. Two sightings occurred on the 15th August, both involving groups of 2 dolphins one of which included the juvenile. (The Eastboume sightings were provided by David Rowlingson co-ordinator of the Eastbourne regional group).

Previous Records

Past sightings (since 1991) have only shown one other occasion when a juvenile dolphin has been positively identified, so this years sightings were recorded with great interest. Sightings in our area usually involve dolphins swimming from west to east. It is likely that dolphins passing through our observation area are following fish migrations. Interestingly, several of this years sightings involved dolphins heading west. A few of the observations occurred close together, at different points along the coast. They appear to be the same group of dolphins slowly heading east over a period of several days. Our systematic observers record a great deal of negative data when dolphins are not seen. However, this is essential to make sense of the observations that are recorded.


We are hoping to build up new contacts with commercial and recreational fisherman in the hope that we can build up a clearer picture of fish abundance locally during 1999. We will then be able to compare this information with dolphin sightings recorded in the same year to see if there is any evidence to support theory that they are following fish migrations. Dolphins are recorded as early as February following a mild winter and anecdotal sightings of mackerel shoals are often at the same time.

If you would like to know more about the work of the Seawatch Foundation in Sussex, please contact

Stephen Savage
Seawatch Foundation
Regional Co-ordinator
1 Eastbrook Road
East Sussex

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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