THE arrival of three dolphins just east of the bridge beside Durty Nelly’s has been drawing viewers to the area since last weekend.
At the time of writing, the dolphins are still at the same place and while there had been some fears for their safety in shallow water, it’s now understood that they are not at risk at this location and have been feeding.
Speaking to The Clare Champion on Wednesday, sightings co-ordinator with the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group, Pádraig Whooley, said concerns dissipated after it was established that they were bottlenose dolphins, rather than common dolphins. “Up to yesterday, we didn’t know what type of dolphins they were but they’re bottlenose so it’s perfectly normal to have them in the Shannon, it’s unusual that they’d go into a tributary of the Shannon but it’s not hugely unusual,” he commented.
He said it is important that people not interfere with the dolphins, unless they run into difficulty, as they are comfortable as they are. “They’re a coastal species and they are very comfortable in shallow water. Any attempts to interfere with them, or take them out of there, would actually be breaking the law, because it’s a special area of conservation, specifically for bottlenose dolphins, so anyone who lays a finger on these dolphins in an attempt to coax them out or push them out would actually be breaking the law. The National Parks and Wildlife Service will come down on people quite strongly for interfering with them.
“It’s different if they strand themselves, then we would do everything we could to assist them but you can’t interfere with these animals, they look pretty healthy to us and the footage that we saw yesterday would suggest they were feeding away.
“Interfering with them because we think it’s the best thing to do or we don’t like where they are, you’re kind of interfering a little bit with nature. Our policy would very much be one of ‘hands off’ unless there’s compelling evidence that these animals are in a dangerous or dire situation.”
In a statement on their website on Tuesday night, the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group said the dolphins may be foraging on an early season salmon run.
It also said they should be left alone to find their way back into the Shannon Estuary. “The IWDG have just confirmed from video footage received that the three dolphins in the Ralty River at Durty Nelly’s pub, Bunratty, are bottlenose dolphins and are most likely from the resident population of Shannon Estuary bottlenose dolphins. It is the considered opinion of the Shannon Dolphin Wildlife Foundation and IWDG that they be left to swim back into the Shannon Estuary on their own.
“Three dolphins were reported swimming in the muddy creek at Bunratty Castle on Sunday, March 31. They were initially reported as common dolphins, an open water species but video evidence taken on April 1-2 confirms they are bottlenose dolphins, a coastal species, with a resident population of circa 130 in the Shannon Estuary.
“The Shannon Estuary is a Special Area of Conservation for bottlenose dolphins and thus they and their habitat have full protection under Irish and EU law. Although it is very unusual to see dolphins this far up a muddy creek, recent acoustic monitoring carried out by the SDWF have recorded bottlenose dolphins on 15% of days off Shannon Airport and 25% of days of Aughinish; thus bottlenose dolphins are upriver much more than we previously thought.
“The dolphins in the video do not seem to be stressed but local observers suggest they seem reluctant to pass under the bridge at the site. However, they must have swam under this bridge to get to their present location. We recommend that the dolphins are left alone to swim back down the creek on their own terms. Obviously if they become stressed (as determined by breathing rate) then some intervention may be required.”