Shannon Dolphin Project Interns Blog II

Noel Langan – Shannon Dolphin Project Intern 2022

Dolphin Soup

Hello Everyone, my name is Noel Langan, I am 23 and I have a long standing interest in marine Biology. To follow up on this interest I went to GMIT, now ATU to do a Marine and freshwater biology course which I graduated from with a level 8 degree in 2021.

Since finishing my college degree I have worked in Galway Atlantaquarium which has proved invaluable for building skills in animal husbandry and in public speaking as a bonus, but eventually I felt it was time to engage in something new that aligned with my true passions in the Marine sector. To this end I took the opportunity to apply for an internship with the IWDG in Kilrush, hoping to work on the Shannon dolphin project, which aims to photograph and monitor the population of at least 145 resident dolphins in the estuary. I was delighted to be accepted to the internship.

While here I get to partake in a variety of surveys. This happens in two mains ways which I have experienced so far, land watches and RIB trips.

Noels first time surveying dolphins at Loop Head with SDP coordinator Mags Daly, Science Officer Becky Dudley and members of the public. Photo by Simon Berrow.

My first land watch was at Loop Head. Located at the mouth of the Shannon Estuary it is a strategic location to watch from as it has a good field of view, and the dolphins frequently pass by. An interesting first experience as I was expecting a lot of pressure to spot dolphins, however, the anxious wait was not long lived and in the midst of me being shown where to watch from and what to watch for in almost comical timing a group of dolphins popped up in front of me and I had the honour of being the first to spot them.

Noel taking photo ID of the Shannon dolphins. Photo by Sibéal Regan.

RIB trips involve going out with two to three others and visiting various locations along the inner and outer reaches of the Shannon Estuary in the hopes of spotting dolphins. These trips offered the most impressive encounters with dolphins to date.

My first trip allowed me to see many impressive breaches, massive groups demonstrating feeding behaviour and up-close bow riding from adults and juveniles alike. These massive groups surrounding us also led to me hear the term “dolphin soup” for the first time and I hope to hear it many more times. Following their movements, camera in hand it is thrilling to learn how to capture the perfect image that can be used for photo identification.

A highlight of my time so far on my internship was sailing on board the Celtic Mist, a vessel owned by the IWDG for surveys, member trips and projects. This trip offered a great seafaring experience with all the joys of eating, travelling, and sleeping on a boat alongside seven people who share the same enthusiasm as me for wildlife and the ocean.

This trip was part of floating classroom, for this we visited as many schools as possible from Dublin to Bangor, bringing with us a presentation about marine mammals, many cool artifacts such as baleen, eyes, and ear bones as well as game of Giant Whale Jenga, which excellently explains marine ecosystems as well trophic cascades in an understandable way to kids.

This turned out to be a fantastic success with the kids noticeably engaged and interested and even strong reports of their newfound curiosity remaining high long after we left. The first day of floating classroom even grabbed the attention of TG4, who visited the boat to record the session. This trip also brought many unique experiences, with a fantastic community feeling on board and many shared meals, I got to see my first ever Minke Whale which I will never forget, visit many beautiful coastal towns and villages, even got to meet a dire wolf from Game of Thrones along the way, going to show you never know what such an adventure might offer.

Floating Classroom Crew with William Mulhall and Game of Thrones Dire Wolf in Ardglass.

When not out on a boat or doing surveys most of my time is spent in the Shannon Dolphin Centre where I do a variety of things including data processing of old trips, with all the photos being taken regularly and the backlog of unprocessed data from the past there is never a shortage of data to be worked through. This involves looking at the batches of photos, cropping into the dolphins and doing any editing to make it more clear and easily identifiable. The photos are also labelled to describe the picture for example the label LA means Left anterior; a descriptor used in the catalogue.

While on the front desk at the centre my main responsibility is to welcome the public as they arrive. To do this I greet them and offer them a tour of the centre and the extensive whale bone collection. If they accept, I try to impress upon them the importance of these animals as well as answering any questions they may have about cetaceans and the unique artifacts in the centre to the best of my ability.


Megan Clarkson – Shannon Dolphin Project Intern 2022

First time sailing on R.V. Celtic Mist

Hi all, my name is Megz and I have travelled from South Africa to have the great pleasure of being one of the new interns this season at the Shannon Dolphin Project.

During my third week here, I got the amazing opportunity to sail from Rossaveel to Kilrush on IWDG’s Celtic Mist. In the early hours on the 15th of June 2022, with a crew of 8, the Celtic Mist embarked on her voyage to Kilrush, on what would be my first sailing experience. Leaving the harbour and after raising her sails, we were accompanied by four really energetic common dolphins weaving in and out, bowriding and breaching alongside her bow.

Common dolphin bow riding Celtic Mist. photo by Megan Clarkson SDP intern.

The weather was slightly overcast with a chilly wind and slight swell. A bit of a bumpy ride but we made good time catching the winds headed down the coast past Doolin. A few of the interns took turns leaving to sail, turn and jive along the way.

Around Miltown Malbay where the rough weather had made some a bit unsteady and we were truly feeling the turbulence of the ocean, we were jolted to life with the sighting of three Minke whales feeding on a bait ball surrounded by a pod of about 15 Common dolphins and an assortment of seabirds, including diving Gannets, Manx Shearwaters and Gulls. It was an amazing sight and experience and for myself my first encounter with Minke whales. Each blow turning our attention from right to left. Lunge feeding at the surface, you could see their throat groves and blows. Common dolphins coming back and forth between the bow, stern and back to the feeding frenzy. At one point the Minke whales had spread all around us and then just as quickly, they one by one disappeared with only a few commons and seabirds left.

Nearing Kilkee the swell increased but the sun came out; the warmth was a nice welcome as we kept a watchful eye out for any bottlenose dolphins that might be from the Shannon Estuary population.

Rounding Loop Head and turning to Kilrush, we were accompanied by a small group of bottlenose dolphins. It was amazing to see them from the bow of the boat. Digitizing and matching dorsal fin photographs to the Shannon Dolphin Photo ID catalogue has started to pay off as I try to match these dolphins to individuals I have seen in the catalogue. Although, it is much harder to identify individuals in the field as I’m still getting used to tracking their fast and unpredictable surfacing patterns.

As the tide was turning near Beal we had another encounter of about 6 bottlenose dolphins. They appeared at our side and were bowriding and crossing from left to right  for about 5 minutes before heading east up the estuary.

Barring the slight sea sickness feeling, my first experience on Celtic Mist was amazing; seeing so many different species for the first time was truly inspiring. I am really looking forward to the possibility of viewing more amazing sights on future trips.

Megz helping to paint Celtic Mists hull during its weekend lift in Kilrush Marina