Canny dolphins surprise sightseers after swimming into North Wales town

Bottlenose dolphins at Victoria Dock, Caernarfon
-Credit: (Image: Ceri and Cara Jarvis)

Dolphins are one of the great wildlife spectacles off the Welsh coast, often seen leaping from the water or riding the bow waves of boats. But until recently, few had dared venture into the treacherous Menai Strait between Anglesey and Gwynedd.

That began to change five years ago and a new video has shown just how daring they have become. A pod of bottlenose dolphins were spotted hanging around Caernarfon’s Victoria Dock at the southern end of the Menai Strait, cheerfully playing up for people watching on.

In recent years they have become an increasingly common sight and Emrys Jones, skipper of the Queen of the Sea sightseeing boat, thinks he knows why. “The dolphins have cottoned on to the sea trout that migrate up and down the Seiont,” said. “They’re after a source of food.”

READ MORE: Two garden centres in North Wales with much-loved cafes have gone up for sale

READ MORE: Llandudno blighted by 'chronic' issue that's affecting lives of residents and visitors

Caernarfon Castle stands guard over the Seiont estuary, whose river is renowned for its salmon and, particularly, sea trout. But what’s sport for anglers is food for others and, if Emrys is right, Cardigan Bay’s dolphins have been canny enough to spot an opportunity. They’ve previously been spotted hunting sea trout at places like New Quay Pier and Fishguard Harbour.

Caernarfon’s dolphins are still enough of a rarity to have eluded most onlookers: its residents were stunned to see a video filmed from the Queen of the Sea showing them so near the historic town. “Wow, never seen them that close,” said a man on social media.

Emrys and wife Doreen are currently celebrating their 40th year of operating the Queen of the Sea from Caernarfon Harbour. Previously, he was a pilot boat skipper guiding oil vessels through the Menai Straight – the sixth generation of ship pilots in his family. Few know its tricky waters better.

“He first saw the dolphins there in 2019, just before Covid,” said Doreen. “You often saw them out in the bay but before then it was unheard of to see them in the Menai Strait.

“On Saturday, it was the third day in a row we’d seen them by Victoria Dock. They’re probably after food and seem to be becoming more adventurous.” Join the North Wales Live WhatsApp community group where you can get the latest stories delivered straight to your phone

Bottlenose dolphins at Victoria Dock, Caernarfon
Bottlenose dolphins at Victoria Dock, Caernarfon -Credit:Ceri and Cara Jarvis

Along with the dramatic coastlines of Gwynedd and Anglesey, dolphin spotting is a key attraction for people signing up for Menai Strait Cruises, a company established in the 1940s and now run by Emrys and Doreen. During the season they run three sailings-a-day and Emrys reckons passengers will see dolphins in the Strait on 20-30 trips each year. “Sightings are not guaranteed!” he stressed.

Last year a surprise reunion of Queen of the Sea crew members was organised for Emrys. More celebrations are planned this year to mark four decades of sailing on a boat with a colourful history.

Originally called Wayfarer II, she was built in 1937 to be used as a ferry between Long Island and Fire Island, New York. This didn’t last long – the following year a hurricane demolished about 400 houses on Fire Island, ending the need for a ferry.

In 1941, the Wayfarer II was bought by the British Government and loaded onto a freighter to be ferried across the Atlantic. By 1942 had been transferred to Holyhead where she was renamed HMS Macaw. At the end of the Second World War, the vessel was released by the Admiralty and was bought by the Jones family.

Converted to a pleasure cruiser under a new name, she worked out of Caernarfon Harbour until 1951 when the boat was sold again. Until 1984, when the Queen of the Sea was bought by the Jones family for a second time, she operated around Britain, including out of Rhyl.

This year, her season began a month late. “The weather was just awful for us,” said Doreen. “We couldn’t get gloss paint on the boat for her annual overhaul.

“The weather has also meant it’s been a quieter start to the season, and more people are now holidaying abroad again after the pandemic. But we have our Ynys Llanddwyn cruises coming up soon and they’re always popular – more so among the locals than holidaymakers.”

More details about Queen of the Sea sailing time can be found here. Sign up for the North Wales Live newsletter sent twice daily to your inbox

Find out what's going on near you