Shannon Dolphin and Wildlife Foundation
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Good year for dolphin-watching in the estuary during 2005

The Shannon Dolphin Tour Boat monitoring report has just been published. During 2005, the SDWF received records from 431 dolphin trips in the Shannon estuary. This is a decline of 5.1% on 2003 (no data available from 2004). Dolphins were observed on 98% of trips carried out from each port. Most trips were carried out from Carrigaholt (214) followed by Kilrush (207) with a new operator in Kilbaha carrying out around 10 trips.

In addition to the new operator from Kilbaha a second new operator offered trips from Kilrush. This is the first year there that new operators have been given permission from the National Parks and Wildlife Service to dolphin-watch in the estuary and it now brings the total number of operators to five. Four of these are in Co Clare and one in Co Kerry, however the Co Kerry operator did not operate any trips this year.

The dolphin trips were again very seasonal with two-thirds carried out in July and August and very few in September and October. A total of eight monitoring indices are collected and used to investigate whether there is any change in dolphin distribution and abundance in the estuary, which might be caused by dolphin-watching. The data from some indices are very consistent each year while others do some inter-annual variation. The length of trip and time to locate dolphins was lower from both ports in 2005 than in previous years, which could mean operators are getting better at locating dolphins or more likely that the dolphins were generally distributed closer to the ports this year compared with previous years. This year the mean group size of dolphins observed from Carrigaholt was lower, but was the same from boats operating from Kilrush, however this is influenced by the low number of trips carried out at the end of the season, when group size tends to increase quite considerably.

Tour boat from Kilrush operated up river more frequently than in previous years while the Carrigaholt boat tended to travel west along the north shore of the estuary. Here visitors are shown a range of other wildlife including birds and wild goats as well as the geology.

Using a technique called photo-identification, which enables researchers to identify individual dolphins from unique markings on their dorsal fins, a total of 68 dolphins were identified from 43 research trips on tour boats. Of these, 57% were also observed in 2003 and 19% as far back as 1999. Some of these dolphins were first identified in 1993 and are still observed each year in the same part of the estuary. This technique enables the SDWF to monitor the impact of dolphin-watching on the individual dolphins being watched. The photo-ID catalogue can be accessed at www.shannondolphins.ieLink to external site:

Monitoring of the dolphin tour boats has been carried out by the SDWF on behalf of the NPWS since 1999 and evidence to date shows there is no significant changes in the dolphins distribution, abundance or behaviour, indicating dolphin-watching is not a significant threat to the dolphins.


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The SDWF is supported by the following agencies... Shannon Development Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government Marine Institute Clare County Council Kilrush Urban District Counil
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