Since mid-2003, systematic monthly sightings surveys for cetaceans have been carried out in Galicia (north-west Spain) from observation points around the coastline, with the aim of providing baseline data on cetacean distribution and habitat use to underpin future conservation measures. Here we summarize results for September 2003 to October 2007. The most frequently recorded species were the bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops truncatus, seen during 10.7% of observation periods), common dolphin (Delphinus delphis, 3.7%), harbour porpoise (Phocoena phocoena, 1.6%), Risso's dolphin (Grampus griseus, 0.4%) and short-finned pilot whale (Globicephala melas, 0.2%). The three most common species showed different distribution patterns along the coast. In terms of habitat preferences, bottlenose dolphins were seen to be associated with more productive areas (areas with higher chlorophyll-a concentrations) where the continental shelf was wider while both common dolphins and harbour porpoises were seen most frequently in less productive areas where the continental shelf is narrowest. Possible reasons for differences in habitat use include differing diets. In Galician waters, all three main cetacean species feed primarily on fish that are common in shelf waters, and in the case of blue whiting (the most important species in the stomach contents of common and bottlenose dolphins) abundant also on the slope. All three cetaceans feed on blue whiting while scad is important in diets of common dolphin and porpoise. It is also possible that porpoises do not use areas frequented by bottlenose dolphins in order to avoid aggressive interactions. Retrospective evaluation of the sampling regime, using data from the 2500 observation periods during 2003–2007 suggests that the overall sightings rates for all species (taking into account observation time and between-site travel time) would be higher if average observation duration was increased to at least 40 minutes. On the other hand, confidence limits on sightings rates stabilized after around 1000 observation periods, suggesting that the number of sites visited or the frequency of visits could be substantially reduced.