In 1993 boat surveys of the Shannon Estuary recorded 25 individual bottlenose dolphins through photo-identification. Since then the population has been extensively studied revealing that there were at least 145 individuals present In 2015, they are resident within the estuary but move to the nearby bays of Tralee and Brandon. They are also genetically discrete from all other Irish bottlenose dolphin populations in Ireland and Europe. Acoustic monitoring is also used to identify areas of importance within the estuary.

The project is based out of the Shannon Dolphin Centre in Kilrush, Co. Clare and is one of the longest running in Europe. It has facilitated many young researchers over the years to develop fieldwork and data handling skills while annually collecting photo-identification data on commercial dolphin watching boats and dedicated survey transects to estimate the population’s size, calving rates and distribution which help evaluate the potential effects caused by the Shannon Estuaries continued industrialisation.

You can support this project by Adopting a Dolphin here. All proceeds go directly to Shannon Dolphin Project so your support will allow us to continue monitoring this population.


The Shannon Dolphins

The Shannon dolphins are a unique year-round resident group of bottlenose dolphins inhabiting the Shannon Estuary. They are a small, genetically discrete population of bottlenose dolphins, the only such population in Ireland. 

Located on the west coast of Ireland, the Shannon Estuary is one of the most important sites for bottlenose dolphins in Europe. In 2000, the estuary was designated as a Special Area of Conservation (SAC), which entitles the dolphins and their habitat to full protection.

Take a moment to watch this short video that introduces you to the Shannon Dolphins and the Shannon Dolphin Project. The video was funded by the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage through the Local Biodiversity Action Fund. Thank you to Barry O’Loughlin Biodiversity Officer, Tom O’Neill Heritage Officer and Eleanor Turner Biodiversity Officer for their support this summer.

Meet the Shannon Dolphins

Shannon Dolphins Sounds

Bottlenose dolphins make many different sounds that they use for communicating, navigating and perceiving their environment. As we use our eyes to see, they use sounds. Here you can listen to some of their different vocalisations:

Collection of bottlenose dolphins vocalisations

If you want to learn more about how bottlenose dolphins produce and perceived sounds in their environment, click on the link down below to read the full article.

The Shannon Dolphin Symphony

How to Identify the Shannon Dolphins

If we want to really understand how dolphins live and use the estuary and ensure that conservation efforts are successful, we need to be able to recognise individual dolphins. A technique called photo-identification is used throughout the world on bottlenose dolphins and a wide range of other species.

If you want to learn more about how we identify individual dolphins using photo-identification, click on the link below:

How to ID Dolphins

How to Photograph Bottlenose Dolphins

Would you like to contribute to our research by capturing valuable photographs of bottlenose dolphins for the project? Learn the best angle to capture images for photo-ID, how to record a sighting with your phone, how to photograph dolphins with your camera, and which are the best settings to use, and much more.

Click on the link below to read the full article:

How to Photograph Dolphins

The Power of People

Without the reports and images from the public, we would not have known that Sandy Salmon live-stranded in 2012 while being pregnant with Muddy, and that she had a calf in 2021 over the winter. Sandy’s life story and family line would be incomplete without the collaboration of IWDG members and local people. Neither would we know that Belle and Astral moved to Galway, and that Kevin Costner ventured outside of the estuary to wonder around Ireland, England, and Scotland.

If you want to know more about the adventures of these dolphins click on the link below:

The Power of People

Shannon Dolphin Project Publications

Latest Publication: Ludwig, K.E., Daly, M., Levesque, S. and Berrow, S.D. (2021) Survival Rates and Capture Heterogeneity of Bottlenose Dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) in the Shannon Estuary, Ireland

Latest Publication: Carmen, M., Berrow, S.D., O’Brien, J.M. (2021) Foraging Behavior of Bottlenose Dolphins in the Shannon Estuary, Ireland as Determined through Static Acoustic Monitoring


Our inshore survey vessel, Muc Mhara is used to monitor the Shannon Dolphin population.

In 2019, a new engine was purchased for this RIB and was partly funded by the LEADER program managed by the Clare Local Development Company (CLDC).

Shannon Estuary Monitoring Service

The Shannon Pilots assist the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group to get a better understanding of movement and habits of the resident bottlenose dolphins on the Shannon Estuary. The pilots report dolphin sightings and log them online to assist the ongoing monitoring performed by the Shannon Dolphin Project. IWDG are very grateful to Patrick Galvin for this initiative and all the pilots for supporting it.

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