A unique photograph of a lamprey hitching a lift on a bottlenose dolphin calf was captured last week in the Shannon Estuary. The photo was taken by Joanna Barker, a researcher with the Kilrush-based Shannon Dolphin and Wildlife Foundation.
“It was while I was looking through photographs taken during a dolphin trip that I noticed this fish stuck to the side of the dolphin. I couldn’t believe my eyes, how can this fish stay attached to a fast moving, agile dolphin calf?” Joanna asked.
The fish was confirmed as a lamprey by Inland Fisheries Ireland. Both the bottlenose dolphin and lampreys are protected species in the Lower River Shannon and were photographed together for the first time last week during a dolphin tour boat monitoring trip on Dolphin Discovery.
The photograph was taken in a shallow part of the estuary, just South of Scattery Island. The Lower River Shannon is the only protected site for dolphins in Ireland and is home to a resident group of bottlenose dolphins. They calve in the estuary from May to September each year. This calf was photographed in a group of adult females and seemed otherwise healthy despite its hitchhiker.
A lamprey is a special fish that has a sucker-like mouth instead of teeth. They attach to fish and feed on their blood and tissue, much like a leech.
The Shannon Dolphin and Wildlife Foundation (SDWF), based in Kilrush, has carried out research on the Shannon dolphins since 1993. For further information on the Shannon dolphins, see www.shannondolphins.ie or visit the SDWF Visitor Centre, in Merchants Quay, Kilrush.