A Summer to Remember

Our Internship at the Shannon Dolphin Centre in Ireland

The three of us arrived in Kilrush, County Clare, at the end of May, unsure of what our summer with Irish Whale and Dolphin Group would look like. The Shannon dolphin centre, situated on the banks of the River Shannon, was going to be our home for the summer. As we arrived in Kilrush, we couldn’t help but be captivated by the quaint little Irish town and its coastal charm. Although we came from different corners of the world (Alaska, Spain and Chicago), we shared the same passion for the ocean. Through our love for marine biology and conservation, we quickly became close, tackling almost every task as a trio. As summer continued, we started to gain experiences in fields we had only dreamed of. This unforgettable experience allowed us to get up close with one of the ocean’s most fascinating creatures – bottlenose dolphins.

Our first week was all about getting to know the team and learning the basics. We were introduced to the different projects, the different species of cetaceans that inhabit the Irish waters and the conservation efforts being undertaken by the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group to protect them. To start the internship off strong, we also completed a live stranding course at the Shannon Dolphin Centre. Together we learned the proper protocols involved with assisting live stranded marine mammals. To complete the course, we attended a presentation as well as hands on practice in the ocean.

Live Stranding course 2023 in Kilkee. Photo: Sibéal Regan

Dolphin Watching Tours and Running the Centre – One of the highlights of our internship was the dolphin watching trips, done by the Dolphin Discovery team. The feeling of spotting a dolphin in the wild for the first time was indescribable. It was a moment that we will cherish forever. However, the internship was not only about observing the dolphins, we also participated in data collection, research and educational activities by running the Shannon Dolphin centre shop and leading guided tours of the centre for our visitors.

Samy on board Dolphin Discovery. Photo: Luisa López

Rib Surveys – As interns, we had the opportunity of helping IWDG staff members with consulting surveys. We learned the importance of building good relationships between environmental organizations and the different stakeholders whose lives rely on the ocean’s resources. At the same time, we were also gaining valuable field experience. By the end of the season, we had tons of new knowledge on how to be marine mammal observers and photographers as well as what it meant to be a valuable crew member on a marine vessel.

Sarafina and Fae’s youngest calf caught playing with seaweed during a rib survey. Photo: Luisa López

Land Watches – As much as we explored the Shannon estuary, we explored the land surrounding it as well. On days we weren’t in the centre or on the water, we were participating in land watches. Us interns were able to get to know each other better as we watched for dolphins from the cliffs for hours. The two hotspots for dolphins watches were the stunning locations of Loop Head and Kilcredaun.

Land watch at Loop Head. Photo: Luisa López

A Week on the Celtic Mist – Prior to arriving in Ireland, we were all looking forward to experiencing life on a research vessel. We couldn’t wait to be on board the Celtic Mist! By mid-July, two of us were sailing from Fenit back to Kilrush. We never felt as at home than we did on Celtic Mist, sailing along the Irish west coast. Not many can say they have lived on a sailboat for a week, let alone participating in bottlenose dolphin research while living on it. Celtic Mist was truly an experience that we will never forget.

Samy and Luisa on board Celtic Mist. Photo: Lina Ireland

Post-mortem Practice– By far the coolest experience we were able to participate in was post-mortems. Samy was lucky enough to assist in two, and Luisa in one, one being a bottlenose dolphin, the other being a True’s beaked whale. We learned so much working alongside Mags Daly, the Shannon Dolphin Project Officer as well as the IWDG post-mortem biologist. Prior to being an intern with the Shannon Dolphin Project, Samy did not see herself working on necropsies or being interested in post-mortem science. After her two experiences, she can’t picture a career not involving them.

Running Events – We also organised a special event for children to experience a day in the life of a marine biologist. This event was a hit with the kids to learn about marine life and understand the importance of protecting our oceans. On Friday the 20th of October, the Irish Whale and Dolphin group won the National Heritage Week Award for the Wild Child category thanks to this event. We are deeply grateful for this award and recognition of our work. It was truly an honour and a humbling experience.

Samy “the whale” telling stories about the Shannon dolphins. Photo: Becky Dudley

Interning with IWDG was unique for many reasons, but one of the main differences we noticed was the amount of research we were able to participate in. From taking the photos ourselves, to identifying which individual was in the photos through photo-ID, to then building dorsal catalogues, us interns were able to work on everything. Nothing was off limits to us, we were actively working on the Shannon Dolphin Project, helping it progress and building it for years to come.

As the field season came to a close, it was time to celebrate. IWDG was launching a book on the Shannon Dolphins! We decorated the Shannon Dolphin Centre and welcomed guests and friends to express gratitude and share the excitement of the book launch. It was a beautiful way to not only close out the field season, but the internship as well.


Written by Samy Zagara Shannon Dolphin Project Intern 2023
Edited by Luisa López Shannon Dolphin Project Research Assistant

I am hooked! I am so happy and grateful my time with IWDG has made me expand my interests in marine biology. Since the start of my marine biology journey, I understood the importance of photography in research, however, I didn’t realize how much time went into becoming a skilful field photographer. Through months of practice, both on land and water, I can now say that I am proud of my photography skills. Until it starts raining… I will never forget the amazing people I met and the experiences I had while interning with IWDG. The only thing I would change about my time as a Shannon Dolphin Project intern would be making my stay longer!“.

Samy Zagara



“My internship at the Shannon Dolphin Centre was filled with adventure, learning, and a newfound passion for marine conservation. I will forever cherish the memories and the people I met along the way. If you ever have the opportunity to intern at a place like this, I encourage you to seize it. This internship also gave me the opportunity to start my first job in the field! I am now the new Research Assistant for the Shannon Dolphin Project. I can’t be more grateful and I will do my best to help with the IWDG mission”.

Luisa López

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