For the majority of the summer break from college I will be stationed by the Shannon estuary with the intention of contributing towards the research work that the Shannon Dolphin and Wildlife Foundation carry out.
Based in Kilrush, County Clare, the foundation are actively engaged in monitoring and collecting data on the resident pod of bottlenose dolphins that have claimed the estuary as their home. With a population of around 150 individuals, the Shannon dolphins are the only known resident pod of bottlenose dolphins in Ireland and are a small, isolated and genetically unique group of aquatic mammals.
The research carried out by the group include photo identification of the dolphins as well as acoustic monitoring. With each animal having a unique dorsal fin arrangement of notches, nicks and scars, by photographing them and comparing with images within the foundation’s extensive image database individual dolphins can be identified and allow us to over time assess the size of the population and whether it is stable, increasing or in decline.
Acoustic monitoring with hydrophones allows us to listen in to the dolphins who use a series of clicks and whistling noises. These noises are used for navigation and hunting through echo-location as well as social interactions. The use of sound and its interpretation is their most successful tactic in a world where the water can be murky and visibility can be almost non existent. Monitoring with hydrophones also allows us to assess how background noise from industry, shipping and seismic surveys potentially impact on the dolphin population and their habits.
For anybody interested in learning more about the Shannon Dolphins and any other cetacean that frequents Irish waters there is a visitor centre located in Kilrush that is open to the public, young and old alike. Open seven days a week from 10.00 – 18.00, the volunteers in the centre are always glad to welcome visitors and really look forward to teaching people who drop in all about some of the wonders that our waters hold. If you are in the area drop in and see some of the wonderful work that the foundation carries out and if the weather behaves itself there are local companies that provide dolphin watching tours that can be availed of.
Naturally, being close to water in the form of a large estuary and with a few stunning beaches that sit on the edge of the Atlantic right beside me, it would be daft of me to pass up on some kayak fishing opportunities while I am here. I have been out on the water already for reconnaissance and I am looking forward to the summer, both the research and the fishing. There are some very promising looking areas close by and I can’t wait to take full advantage of them being on my doorstep.