After the last few weeks of surveying focusing on collecting data on the resident Shannon bottlenose dolphin population, our scientific programme shifted gears this week. We surveyed nearby the Shannon estuary and spent our nights in Fenit marina as the forecast was too uncertain to anchor safely overnight. We had various kinds of weather during the week and enjoyed great sightings of bottlenose dolphins and common dolphins. Since day one our crew had a beautiful energy and team effort vibe, either for cooking, learning sailing manoeuvres, napping, the “Shree support swimming cold water committee” or writing this blog, so here is our team’s journey:
Pre Sail: The crew for the week gathered mid Saturday afternoon for their initial safety briefing and introductions. There was a diverse mix of marine biologists and citizen scientists of all ages… although Pat, our skipper, was going to be the only male on the boat!
Day One: Celtic Mist was berthed in Kilrush, and we sailed first thing the next morning out of the Shannon Estuary down the west coast down to Tralee bay. Before all of this however, our new crew had to navigate the lock to get out of Kilrush harbour….. and we did a terrific job I must say! There were limited sightings because conditions were so tricky. Not only were waves and swell making spotting difficult; the focus on avoiding sea sickness, whilst getting our sea legs made watches hard. Despite all of this we did spot two pods of bottlenose dolphins in the morning. Both of which were at distance, not curious about us or wanting to bow ride Celtic Mist. However, that afternoon as we arrived in Fenit marina, our welcoming committee – “The Fenit Three” – made a much appreciated appearance after a very quiet afternoon all the way down the coast. These three bottlenose dolphins circled the vessel and came into bow ride all the way into harbour. The evening finished off with the first of what was to become a week of culinary delights, with some of the crew then heading to the local pub and experiencing the famous Kerry hospitality.
Day Two: The weather forecast continued to be temperamental, so the decision was made to sail close to home, and survey Brandon Bay via the Maharees. The Kerry scenery on the way was mind blowing, from the towering majestic McGuillicuddy Reeks, to the expansive 40km of golden beach and the scattering of the uninhabited Maherees islands, one of which closely resembled a sperm whale or a beaked-whale (depending on your imagination).We took this as a good omen!
As the winds calmed we zig zagged across the Bay, with the sun on our back. We had one sighting of bottlenose dolphins, a pod of around 15. It was a short day due to the inclement weather, and we scooted back to Fenit to avoid the worst of the weather. After warm showers and great chats about Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) and marine mammals, we had a feast of fajitas and Hannah introduced us to ”Fifteens”, a cold mix of digestives, condensed milk, marshmallows, glacé cherries… fifteen of each. Yumlicious desert! We decided our plan for the next day and went early to bed as we had a long day ahead of us.
Day Three: We were up and out at 7a.m. The consolation was that “the Fenit Three” kept us company on our way out. It was a very misty start as we headed north all the way up to Kilkee. But as soon as we passed the lighthouse the fog lifted and we were sailing through glassy calm waters. There was no motion sickness and a perfect day for spotting animals! We did manage to get the mainsail up in the morning for a great sailing day.
We had 13 different sightings of both bottlenose and common dolphins during this long day. They showed very little interest in the boat however, other than to check us out and then move on very quickly. It was a very long day; and the sea lulled us all to sleep with everyone napping** in between their watches. A bizarre mix of nap locations and poses were observed, documented and pictured, for future scientific research! The crew was re-energised with a late sighting of a pod of chatty common dolphins, enjoying every minute of our bow wave.
** not Hélène…. Please send a medal (made of chocolate!)
We finally landed back to our berth just as night was falling at around 10pm, but Hannah had been busy in the galley and we dined, yet again, on a delicious meal of veggie Bolognese. And so to bed; for our second day of early starts as the next day’s forecast sounded perfect.
Day Four: Thankfully the tide was a little later so we were up and out by 8am, and the day had dawned beautifully with not a cloud in the sky. The mountains were beyond breathtaking with the morning light. We went north and surveyed the Shannon estuary. Most of the day was very quiet with only a few sightings but as long as we stay on effort (searching for animals), no sightings is still very important data. We still enjoyed this summer sunny sailing day very much (hat and sunscreen mandatory!).
Late afternoon, we encountered a very active pod of common dolphins feeding with Manx shearwaters and we had the chance to observe a mother and a calf as they came very close to the boat. At the end of the day, closer to Fenit marina, we also spotted a group of bottlenose dolphins and again, a mother and a calf came closer to us! Apparently today was “introduction to Celtic Mist” day for the younger ones and we really appreciated it! After a long hot sunny day at sea, some of us went for a swim in Fenit and we enjoyed each other’s company with a fabulous curry for dinner.
Day Five & Six: Unfortunately the wind was back again at the end of the week! The forecast was too bad to sail and spot animals unfortunately. However it was not a bad spot to be stuck for a few days. We stayed in Fenit and enjoyed good walks, a nice picnic on the beach, cold swims and the local pub of course! We ended the week by sharing our new memories, having more laughs, and feeling super grateful that we were able to witness wildlife during this fun adventure together.
IWDG wants to thank every member of this crew for their time helping us collect data. It’s very much appreciated.
Celtic Mist Biologist
𝑇ℎ𝑖𝑠 𝑦𝑒𝑎𝑟𝑠 𝑠𝑢𝑟𝑣𝑒𝑦𝑠 𝑎𝑟𝑒 𝑏𝑒𝑖𝑛𝑔 𝑟𝑢𝑛 𝑖𝑛 𝑐𝑜𝑙𝑙𝑎𝑏𝑜𝑟𝑎𝑡𝑖𝑜𝑛 𝑤𝑖𝑡ℎ Fair Seas. 𝐷𝑢𝑟𝑖𝑛𝑔 𝑡ℎ𝑒 𝑠𝑒𝑎𝑠𝑜𝑛 𝐶𝑒𝑙𝑡𝑖𝑐 𝑀𝑖𝑠𝑡 𝑤𝑖𝑙𝑙 𝑏𝑒 𝑠𝑢𝑟𝑣𝑒𝑦𝑖𝑛𝑔 𝑡ℎ𝑒 𝑤𝑎𝑡𝑒𝑟𝑠 𝑜𝑓 𝑡ℎ𝑒 𝑆𝑜𝑢𝑡ℎ𝑤𝑒𝑠𝑡 𝐶𝑜𝑎𝑠𝑡 𝑎𝑛𝑑 𝐿𝑜𝑜𝑝 𝐻𝑒𝑎𝑑 𝑡𝑜 𝐾𝑒𝑛𝑚𝑎𝑟𝑒 𝐴𝑟𝑒𝑎𝑠 𝑜𝑓 𝐼𝑛𝑡𝑒𝑟𝑒𝑠𝑡 (𝐴𝑜𝐼) 𝑐𝑜𝑙𝑙𝑒𝑐𝑡𝑖𝑛𝑔 𝑣𝑖𝑡𝑎𝑙 𝑖𝑛𝑓𝑜𝑟𝑚𝑎𝑡𝑖𝑜𝑛 𝑜𝑛 𝑡ℎ𝑒 𝑚𝑎𝑟𝑖𝑛𝑒 𝑙𝑖𝑓𝑒 𝑖𝑛 𝑜𝑢𝑟 𝑤𝑎𝑡𝑒𝑟𝑠.