Be A Marine Biologist for a Day – National Heritage Week Blog

On Saturday, the 19th of August, we celebrated the National Heritage Week theme of passing down knowledge and skills through generation through our “Be a marine biologist for a day,” which took place at the Shannon Dolphin Center in Kilrush, Co. Clare.

Beginning the day with an introduction to cetaceans, IWDG scientists explained the differences between porpoises, dolphins and whales to our young learners. We also talked about the evolution of dolphins and whales, how they evolved from terrestrial mammals around 50 million years ago, and how cows are even a distant relative.
Diving into the anatomy of cetaceans next with real whale and dolphin bones, the young scientist could see these evolutionary adaptations that make marine

Introduction to cetaceans presented by Luisa

mammals so unique by discovering the vestigial hind limbs of a dolphin and comparing bones in a dolphin’s arm’ or pectoral fin to a human’s. Examining fossil records and bones is one way for scientists to understand modern-day animals, but we can also explore things like whale teeth and ears from modern-day whales to discover how old they were when they died and even how a dolphin or whale makes sounds and songs.

Later, Samy, “the killer whale,” joined the crew to show everyone how scientists study and monitor the Shannon dolphins, taking photos of their dorsal fin and matching them using the IWDG catalogue to track individuals through time.

Samy the killer whale talking about the IWDG bone collection.

Samy the killer whale introduces the Shannon Dolphin Project and how scientists use photographs to study individuals through time.







The kids had the opportunity to experience how to match their own dolphins with a matching test, and they all did brilliant work!
After the lunch break, we had a surprise for dessert. Using shark, whale and dolphin cookies we learned about species identification and how different types of marine animals all look unique we then decorated a cookie with our favourite species.

Cookie decorating fun!



Once we finished with the cookies, it was time to play some games and learn more about biology at the same time. We played a whale Jenga game to represent how ecosystems work in real life and how conservation efforts try to balance a tower continuously trembling by all the threats against biodiversity. We learned how important it is to protect and preserve all the spices, from the top to the bottom of the food chain, to have a healthy and strong ecosystem. We ended the day with a mark-recapture experiment using marshmallows. The game aims to design a net that only catches the biggest animals and allows the smallest ones to escape. Bycatch is an emerging threat to several animals, such as dolphins, whales, sea turtles, and seabirds. These animals can be entangled in fishing gear by accident, and some cannot escape. Designing nets that prevent bycatch is vital for the conservation of these animals.

Whale Jenga Fun Outside

We want to thank all the young people who participated in our Be a marine biologist for a day and for celebrating National Heritage Week 2023 with us.

Written by Luisa Munoz Shannon Dolphin Project Intern 2023.
Edited by Sibéal Regan IWDG Education and Outreach Officer.