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Haf is a beautiful female bottlenose dolphin who has had at least four calves. But she has a secret. Nobody knows for sure why she vanished from Cardigan Bay for three whole years and then reappeared!

From 2001, Haf (which means “summer” in Welsh) was seen and recorded regularly in Cardigan Bay, West Wales, by researchers at Sea Watch Foundation. Sea Watch is a national marine research and conservation charity carrying out regular Photo-ID surveys of the population with the support of the Countryside Council for Wales.

Haf became so well known to researchers that she was one of the first Cardigan Bay dolphins to be offered up for adoption through the Sea Watch Foundation’s Adopt-A-Dolphin scheme This scheme helps to raise money to support Sea Watch’s research and conservation of these dolphins, and it is that research which is helping to unravel what might have happened to Haf during her  three ‘missing’ years.

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Sea Watch scientists recorded Haf with a juvenile calf in 2003, and in August of 2004 she was seen with a little new-born. These two were seen swimming closely together for a few years, and in 2007 Haf gave birth to another new-born named Bubbles.

Later in 2007, sightings of her stopped. Sea Watch researchers are informed of any bottlenose dolphins which wash up dead, or are stranded, so they held their breath for three years. However, there were no reports of her dead or alive.

In July 2011, she reappeared just as suddenly as she had vanished. Swimming happily alongside ‘Whisper’ – a dolphin who had also ‘disappeared’ at much the same time. During 2011, Haf was seen several times in Cardigan Bay but when she did not show up in the Cardigan Bay surveys in the spring and early summer of 2012, it began to look as though Haf might have done another vanishing act.

In August 2012, there was joy amongst Sea Watch researchers onboard the research vessel Dunbar Castle 11 when they spotted Haf with a tiny new-born calf which, because of its ‘stripes’ and tiny size, may have been only a few days old.

Sea Watch Monitoring Officer, Daphna Feingold, explains: “We used to think the bottlenose dolphin population was resident to Cardigan Bay. Photo ID however revealed a clear pattern of migration. We now know some stay in the bay year round, but from around October/November most of the Cardigan Bay dolphin population (including calves) move north out of the two SACs (Special Areas of Conservation) joining up with others to range around Anglesey and beyond, at least to the Isle of Man although their overall range is not yet known and may extend as far as Scotland. They return to Cardigan Bay in the spring.

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