Meet the Shannon Dolphins

Kevin Costner

Kevin Costner is one of ‘’The Originals’’, he was one of the first 25 animals added to the Shannon Dolphin Catalogue when the project began in 1993. As he was an adult when we first identified him, he must be now at least 35 years old. Given how well marked he was back then it’s most likely he is well into his 40’s if not older. On the right is Kevin in 1994.

He was named Kevin Costner by long time SDP researcher Stephanie Levesque, and was given this name due to his habit of regularly acting as a ‘bodyguard’ for the females and their calves. You can see Kevin Costner living up to his name swimming close to young Shannon dolphins.

Kevin is most frequently seen in the inner Shannon Estuary between Scattery Island/Carrig Island and Tarbert. He is without question one of our favourite dolphins in the Shannon population. He is not shy of the boats. His dorsal fin is well marked and has not changed much in the last 28 years making him extremely easy to match.

Kevin and his fascinating travels around Ireland, England and Scotland!

On 22nd April 2021, the IWDG received reports of a single bottlenose dolphin in the River Boyne, located on the east coast of Ireland, near Drogheda, Co. Louth. Shannon Dolphin Project Officer, Mags Daly, confirmed that this animal was our own Kevin Costner, thanks to the images received from Aidan Curran. Sightings of Kevin continued the next day, he travelled even further upriver to the Peace and the Mary Mc Aleese bridges. His last known sighting in the River Boyne was on 23rd April at mid-night. He is well used to an estuarine environment, so the fact he was in a different one did not raise any concerns.

Kevin photographed by Aidan Curran Photography in the River Boyne, Ireland

We announced the match in our social media platforms and a few days later the UK SeaWatch Foundation, our counterparts who study the resident bottlenose dolphins of Cardigan Bay, Wales,  forwarded images to us of a bottlenose dolphin off Merseyside Coast, near Liverpool, England. This photos were taken on 15th April, a week before the River Boyne sighting. This sighting is the first sighting of a Shannon dolphin outside of Irish waters!

Kevin off Merseyside, England, photo by the UK SeaWatch Foundation

And again, we received images of Kevin from another sighting on the 9th May in the River Eden, Cumbria, England from Richard Clark. We could again confirm that this animal was Kevin, see comparison image below.

Kevin in the River Eden, England trying to catch a prey. Photo by Richard Clark

We heard no more of Kevin until December 2022, when we received images from Fiona Cook, Vari, and the Cycle Cetacean Watch in Scotland who spotted two unknown dolphins hanging out in the River Clyde, Scotland. Who should it be but our beloved traveller Kevin Costner! What was the most surprising thing about this sighting was that he was not alone, he was with Giado, another male from the inner Shannon estuary population. The ‘Innies’ population is known for being resident of the inner Shannon Estuary, and they rarely leave it. Finding not only one but two innies outside of their home range is certainly exceptional!

Kevin spotted in the River Clyde, Scotland, photo by Fiona Cook

Kevin and Giado hanging out in the River Clyde, Scotland. Kevin was only recorded alone when seen in the Boyne and in England, yet they somehow found each other in Scotland! Kevin and Giado, have yet to return to the Shannon Estuary. Photo by Fiona Cook.

The reasons for Kevin’s departure from the Shannon are unknown.  We do hope that he does return home after his sojourn around the Irish Sea. All images of Kevin and his travels came from members of the public, showing the power of citizen science and submitting your reports and images of bottlenose dolphins to the IWDG. Without Kevin’s public sightings, we would have assumed that he did not make it through the winter of 2021, and we would have never known about his adventures.

Kevin is one of the messiest eaters among the Shannon dolphins, giving us opportunities to gain an insight into their diet. We have more pictures of him and his prey than any other Shannon dolphin! He has been observed swimming with a salmon hanging out of this mouth and balancing the salmon on his beak. We have even seen him perform a synchronised fish toss with Storm, with whom he is regularly seen. The Shannon dolphins can be regularly seen tossing fish into the air to catch them again so they can swallow head first. Dolphins do this so the spines and fins of their prey fish do not injure or choke them on the way down

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