IWDG propose North Kerry is made a Marine Protected Area for bottlenose dolphins

11th Dec 2016

Research carried out by the Shannon Dolphin and Wildlife Foundation and the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group, largely from their new research vessel Celtic Mist, has led them to propose that Tralee and Brandon Bays in North Kerry should be protected for bottlenose dolphins.

The Shannon Estuary is one of the most important sites in Europe for bottlenose dolphins. It was designated as a marine protected area in 2000 and covers 684km2 from Limerick City Kerry and Loop Head. Around 120 dolphins occur in the Shannon and have around 8 calves each year and are considered genetically different to other bottlenose dolphins in Ireland.


Bottlenose dolphins in Brandon Bay 

This small but unique population has been studied for over 20 years when Dr Simon Berrow carried out the first research trip in May 1993 from Carrigaholt on the Loop Head peninsula. Many of the dolphins he photographed in 1993 are still seen each year in the estuary. Since 1993 the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group, based in Kilrush, Co Clare have built up a catalogue of over 200 individually recognisable dolphins recorded in the Shannon. It was this catalogue that was used to compare the dolphins recorded in Tralee and Brandon Bays to see were they part of the Shannon population.

We knew dolphins had been regularly observed in Brandon Bay but did not know which population they belonged to and had no idea they were as abundant and frequent as this study has shown” said Dr Berrow

The paper which has just been published in the Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy, showed that during the summer months between 2008 and 2016, bottlenose dolphins were regularly encountered in Tralee and Brandon Bays. Using a technique called photo-identification, where individual dolphins are recognised by unique markings on their dorsal fins recorded from photographs, researchers recorded 70 individual dolphins during this period.

Of the 70 individual dolphins photographed 67 (96%) were matched to the Shannon catalogue, indicating that they were Shannon dolphins. In fact, nearly two-thirds of the current adult dolphin population estimate of 108 was identified in Brandon and Tralee Bays.


Young calf with group in Brandon Bay         Volunteer Abby Cummings eating lunch during survey on Celtic Mist 

Senior author Stephanie Levesque said “the study showed very high numbers of Shannon dolphins present during the summer months in Brandon and Tralee Bays. If further surveys were to be carried out at various times of the year, including collecting behavioural data, it could help us to better understand how they are using these habitats. The Lower River Shannon SAC was designated in 2000 to protect the Shannon dolphin population. Therefore, its boundaries should include areas where these dolphins are known to regularly occur”.

Results from this study have shown a high percentage of Shannon dolphins were identified but also re-sighted which provides evidence that these bays are a significant habitat for Shannon dolphins. The IWDG therefore recommends the boundary of the Lower River Shannon SAC is extended to include both Brandon Bay and Tralee Bays in order to provide legal protection of these habitats.

The IWDG believes good conservation management should be evidence based and if necessary the IWDG will try and gain the empirical data required to support and promote conservation actions. This is not only is a responsible approach but gives IWDG research and opinion great credibility. The IWDG will continue to survey these bays using Celtic Mist and gain more information to strengthen its case. Celtic Mist is currently berthed in Fenit on Tralee Bay and with the support of IWDG members will sail these waters in 2017 to find, photograph and document bottlenose dolphins and other species inhabiting the bays.

Watch short video of Celtic Mist surveying bottlenose dolphins in Brandon Bay by Digimac Video Prorduction in Fenit, Co Kerry


Celtic Mist heading into Fenit after surveying in Brandon and Tralee Bays

See Rebecca Treacys footage from Celtic Mist  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IrjcrtBJ2X0

Please support our campain to provide Marine Protected Area ststus for Brandon and Tralee Bays



Levesque, S., Reusch, K., Baker, I., O’Brien, J. and Berrow, S. 2016 Photo-Identification of Bottlenose Dolphins (Tursiops truncatus ) in Tralee Bay and Brandon Bay, Co. Kerry: A Case for SAC Boundary Extension. Biology and Environment: Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy 2016.

To access the original paper go to http://http://dx.doi.org/ 10.3318/BIOE.2016. 1 



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