Meet the Shannon Dolphins

Sarafina and her family

Sarafina is one of the original 25 animals added to the catalogue when the project began in 1993. She is believed to be at least 35 years old, probably even older, and she is one of the most commonly seen dolphins in the inner Shannon Estuary. Sarafina is the matriarch of one of the most popular families of Shannon Dolphins.

Sarafina’s dorsal fin has not changed much over the years. She still has the single notch in the middle of her fin, along with the white marks on the left side of her dorsal fin.

Sarafina’s first known calf is Nala. Nala was the first calf added to the catalogue in 2012, and the first calf tracked in the project, making her an important animal for long-time Shannon Dolphin Project researchers.

Sarafina has had a total of 4 calves. She had her second calf #860 in 2016, however, we didn’t see her at all in 2017, and we feared the worst. Sarafina went on to have her third calf, Belle in 2019 and had her most recent calf #910 in 2022. Everything is looking great for Sarafina and her family so far.


Nala gave birth to her first calf, Sionna, in 2019. Nala was quite young to have her first calf at only seven years of age, so we were very surprised and delighted with the arrival of this little one. This was an important milestone in the project as this animal is the first known third-generation calf in the SDP catalogue; that is to say, we know who this dolphin’s mother and grandmother are. Sionna has what we call tattoo-like skin lesions. These lesions are often associated with high mortality rates in newborns and young calves between 1 and 2 years old; fortunately, Sionna got her lesions when she was older and they seem to be fading. In 2023, sometime between mid-July and August, Nala had another calf, #931.

While Nala continued to be seen with her mother in the inner Shannon Estuary, younger sister Belle seems to be more independent. She has not returned to the Shannon Estuary after leaving in the spring of 2022. She left the estuary with Astral, another innie female from the subgroup of Shannon Dolphins that are primarily seen in the Inner Shannon Estuary. They are now semi-resident in Galway with Nimmo, a typically solitary male bottlenose dolphin from the offshore population. In September 2023, they reappeared in Galway with a 3rd, most likely Shannon dolphin. Unfortunately we have no images of the 3rd dolphin’s dorsal fin yet to confirm which Shannon dolphin this individual is. This association is unusual as the Shannon Dolphins are genetically discrete. This means that they are not breeding with dolphins from the coastal or the offshore population, to which we now know Nimmo belongs.

Sarafina is frequently seen with her calves in the inner estuary, but she also spends time with other Shannon dolphins, such as Sandy, Danú, and Bob. Sarafina’s and Danu’s families have a very close relationship. We have recorded Nala surfacing frequently with Mist, Danú’s daughter and also a second generation innie female, especially after they both became mothers themselves.

Sarafina and Bob

Sarafina, her youngest calf 910 and Mist

Sarafina and Sandy

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