A Day as an Intern with

the Shannon Dolphin Project

A typical day in the life of an intern at the Shannon Dolphin Centre is both exciting and varied, involving a mix of fieldwork, data analysis and interaction with the centre visitors.

The day starts at 10:00 a.m, we open the centre and set it up for visitors, making sure that all the exhibits are in order and the interactive screens are on and ready. We spend the morning being at front desk engaging with visitors, providing them information about dolphins and whales and about the ongoing research at the centre. At the same time, when the centre is quite, we work on data entry – us interns have been organising and inputting all the data collected from field work to excel spread sheets.

Later on, we headed upstairs to prepare all the gear we need for the Dolphin Discovery Tours. This includes gathering cameras, GPS devices and data sheets for photographing the dolphins that we encounter during the tour to be able to identify them later using our photo-ID catalogues. In addition to photographing the dolphins, we also take notes of the estimate number of individuals in the group, their behaviour and the environmental conditions. Another important gear to take with you when you work in Ireland during the summer is sunscreen, raincoats and rain protection equipment for the cameras. You never know with the Irish weather.

We experience all seasons in a single day; you need to be prepared for any type of weather

On board the Dolphin Discovery, we greeted the skipper and deckhand, Kevin and Brian, they let us hang out in the wheelhouse with them, not just for the VIP treatment, but to keep ourselves and the gear dry. This time we headed east, going up river passing Money Point and Tarbert. Both sites in the Shannon Estuary are hotspots for bottlenose dolphins and it’s not unusual to see the dolphins foraging or socialising there. Today, unfortunately, they were playing hide-and-seek in the area so we turned back west. Sometimes we don’t have any sightings, it’s all part of the game when you’re studying wild animals, as frustrating as it may be. After a while heading west, we spotted dolphins near Carrig Island, we had a sighting!

Dolphin Discovery tour boat on the Shannon Estuary. Photo: Luisa López

Now, here comes our favourite part. We grab the cameras, record their position on the GPS, and headed to the bow of the boat. Standing on the bow gives us the perfect view point to capture images for photo-ID. Two of them slowly surface beside the boat. We were close enough that we could hear them breathing as they surfaced. We are still learning the ropes of capturing dolphin photos.

Lina: It is difficult to capture good photos of a moving object when you only have a few seconds to shoot but I think I’m improving from where I started at the beginning of the summer with zero experience.

Photo of a Shannon dolphin taken on board the Dolphin Discovery by Samy Zagara

We only stay with the dolphins for a few minutes to avoid interfering with their activities, as the Dolphin Discovery code of conduct establishes, we do not remain with the dolphins for more than 30 minutes. Once we are ready to leave, we head back into the wheelhouse to double-check that we recorded everything about the encounter on the data sheet. On the way back to the Kilrush Marina, we spotted the IWDG rib, Muc Mhara, with Mags Daly (SDP Officer) and Samy, the other intern, returning from their survey upriver. As we entered the marina, we noticed a heron standing silently on the shore, reminding us that the Shannon Estuary is a diverse, thriving habitat for many animals, not just the dolphins.

Heron at Kilrush Marina. Photo: Lina Ireland

Back at the Shannon Dolphin Centre, we saved the GPS data and the photos before transferring the data from the paper sheet into an excel spreadsheet. Then, we go back downstairs to wrap up the rest of the day and welcome the visitors until the closing time. The centre closes every day at 6:00 p.m., us interns conclude the day closing down the exhibit and letting everything ready for the next day.

“The life of an intern at the Shannon Dolphin centre is dynamic, our days varied based on the weather, the tour boats and surveys, the number of visitors at the centre, the needs of specific projects… All these factors provide us a blend of experience in different fields, your days will never look the same here!”


Written by Lina Ireland Shannon Dolphin Project Intern 2023
Edited by Luisa López Shannon Dolphin Project Research Assistant