The Shannon Estuary is Ireland's first marine Special Area of Conservation. The rich waters and the shelter of the Shannon Estuary provide a haven and a breeding ground for the country's only known resident group of bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops Truncatus).
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Over 100 individual dolphins have been identified using the estuary at different times and calves are born each year between May and August. Some resident dolphins are easily recognizable. One in particular has been named “Snowie” because it carries a white spot at the base of its dorsal fin.
The bottlenose dolphin gets its name due to its characteristic stubby bottle-shaped beak. They are nine to twelve feet in length, are grey in colour with a white stomach, have rounded heads, and short grey beaks. Dolphins eat a variety of fish, including salmon, mackerel, herring, and sprat. Using their built-in sonar, they hunt co-operatively and alert others to the precise location for the day’s dinner. The shape of the dolphin’s body and ability to reach speeds of 40 knots and up ensures no dolphin will be late for a meal.
They can be observed at close quarters by taking an organized boat trip from either Kilrush or Carrigaholt in County Clare or Doon, or near Ballybunion in County Kerry.
On the boat trip information is given about the dolphins, estuarine marine life, sea birds, and other local features from a qualified skipper and staff. There is an opportunity to listen underwater to the dolphins communicating through the use of the hydrophone. The dolphins can be observed, on most days, feeding, travelling, or playing. Sometimes they jump clear out of the water and swim along with the boats. They often enjoy riding the bow wave. Every encounter is different and is determined by the dolphins themselves.
The Shannon Dolphin and Wildlife Foundation, based at the Scattery Island’s Visitor Centre in Kilrush, County Clare, monitor all dolphin-watching trips in order to protect the dolphins and their habitat. The boats that take visitors out to see the dolphins operate to an agreed code of practice in the interest of minding the dolphins.
For further information on boat trips contact:
Dolphinwatch, Carrigaholt: Tel. 0 65 9058156 or 0 87 2584711
Scattery Island Ferries, Kilrush Marina: Tel 0 65 9051327
Saoirse Sea Sports, Carrigaholt: Tel. 0 65 9058234
Ballybunion Coastline Cruises, Ballybunion: Tel. 0 368 27245
Information courtesy Shannon Regional Tourist Development