Feeling Right at Home,

Surrounded by the Sea

A week on board Celtic Mist by Samy Zagara and Luisa López

Greetings fellow marine lovers! Our names are Samy, originally from Chicago, and Luisa, from Spain. We met for the first time in Kilrush, Ireland to become two of Shannon Dolphin Project’s newest interns for the 2023 season!

We became good friends throughout our internship, however, our bond really strengthened last week as we both set sail for the first time on Celtic Mist. On July 22nd, we embarked on our journey towards the boat. Following our ferry trip from Killimer to Tarbert, Luisa drove us down the Kerry Coast to Fenit Harbour. It was a wonderful feeling being reunited with our Irish Whale & Dolphin Group team members Mags Daly, Becky Dudley, and Susi Matejka. After having a delicious lunch at the local cafe, we started to prepare for our week at sea. Our first day of sailing was a bit lumpy but we had our best sightings of the week. We travelled from Fenit to Brandon Bay, hugging the beautiful Slieve Mish Mountain range. At the start of our journey, there was dense fog slowly creeping down the mountains creating a picturesque scene as we continued to search for our Shannon Dolphins.

Our first sighting was two bottlenose dolphins who kept a small distance between themselves and the vessel. About an hour later, the boat was surrounded by Shannon Bottlenose Dolphins! Some stayed back and watched while others took more of an interest in our boat, bow-riding and swimming with their bellies facing up. You could hear some of them whistling to each other under the wake as they swiftly moved left to right along the bow. Luisa and I were amazed by the size of these individuals. The Bottlenose Dolphins we previously witnessed close up were typically calves or juveniles, therefore, watching larger adults bow-riding and checking out the vessel was quite a treat. It was amazing to see such a large, social gathering. If it weren’t for the rain, we would have stayed for an hour or two.

Photo of us on board the Celtic Mist taken by our friend and fellow intern, Lina Ireland

Our day wrapped up nicely as we returned to Fenit Harbour and were met with the gleeful Fenit-3. This little group of dolphins is made up of Doyle, the mother of the male calf who is now a juvenile, and a third individual, a female with a very particular lavender colour. Earlier in the week The IWDG team was elated to finally learn the sex of the third individual. After discovering she is a girl, Shannon Dolphin Project Officer, Mags Daly decided on the name Samphire, inspired by Samphire Island, where Fenit Lighthouse is – an iconic Fenit sight/landmark. The three Scottish Bottlenose Dolphins seemed quite excited to see us, as they stayed in their tight-knit group bow riding then taking turns side-slapping right in front of the bow. They continued with us all the way into the Fenit Marina, which was the  first time during Celtic Mist surveys of Tralee Bay they stayed with us this long. We were told by Mags in previous years they turned back once we reached the pier, however, this year, they travelled into the pier with us! I guess they were just as excited to see us as we were to see them.

The Fenit Three at Fenit Harbour

On July 24th, we covered a large amount of the Irish coast as we crossed over from Fenit to Carrigaholt. While we were leaving Tralee Bay, we were greeted by the Fenit-3 for a chance to say our goodbyes. Until next time, Fenit-3! We continued our travel towards the Clare Coast, as we came across a brief sighting of Bottlenose Dolphins. Unlike the Shannon Dolphins we saw in Brandon Bay, these individuals wanted no part in our travel. They remained far away from us and hid slyly in the swell. Along our journey, we saw masses of jellyfish complete with moon jellies, compass jellies as well as a few lion’s mane jellyfish! We had never seen hundreds at a time, it was quite a mesmerising sight. We finished our day anchored in Carrigaholt Bay, surrounded by the soothing sounds of the Atlantic.

Sunset at Carrigaholt Bay. Photo: Samy Zagara

During our voyage on the Celtic Mist, we spotted some of the spectacular sea birds that inhabit the Irish Coast. Being on effort/constant watch gave us time to practice our photography and bird identification skills. We spotted the largest seabird of the North Atlantic, the gannet, easily identified by its bright white body and yellow tinted head. We also learned how to distinguish cormorants from shags, as well as shearwaters from guillemots. Other seabird species we noticed were storm petrels, fulmars, kittiwakes and common gulls. We were fascinated by the elegance with which the fulmars fly over the cliffs and surf the waves of the sea. Thanks to our experience on the Celtic Mist, our knowledge of sea birds has grown as well as our admiration for them.

Gannets and Fulmars joined us while sailing to Kilrush. Photos: Luisa López

As our week on Celtic Mist came to an end, on July 27th we covered both the Clare and Kerry Coast, ending the day heading up-river circling Tarbert and Money-Point. We had a beautiful last day in terms of weather as we discovered all the hidden crevices of the Shannon Estuary. Our favourite sight was the rigid Bromore Cliffs, which created a meeting point between Beal and Ballybunnion. We spotted several waterfalls tumbling down the cliffs–we sat and watched the freshwater meet the sea. A beautiful day to end an unforgettable week at sea.


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