A recent sighting of dolphins of Kilteery Pier in Loughill
DOLPHIN spotting has become a new sport along the Shannon over the past weeks with sightings reported all along the estuary and even up to Limerick Docks.
But it is close to the swimming and boating spots along the Shannon that the real excitement has been generated as swimmers, rowers and sailors have been able to get closer than ever to the sleek sea mammals.
Last week, four and possibly as many as eight dolphins were spotted within metres of Kilteery Pier, east of Glin.
Young and enthusiastic swimmers were just 20 and 30 metres away at one point while the rescue boat, on a training mission, was circled by jumping swimming dolphins.
Veteran dolphin watcher, Ger Reidy from Loughill, says dolphins have been a regular sight up as far as Foynes Island for several weeks now.
“You wouldn’t see them every day,” he explains but one of his best experiences was early last Thursday, when he was out walking at Kilteery with his regular walking partner Bernard Stack.
“We could see them four of them lifting up out of the water. It was the first time I have seen them come so close to the pier. They were 20 or 30 metres out from the head of the pier. You could see them clear as a whistle.”
Dolphins are regularly seen further west beyond Scattery Island, Tarbert and the mouth of the Shannon, according to Ger, and would come up and down the river at times each year.
But they are being spotted more often and in bigger numbers this year than ever before.
“I have seen them all my life,” Ger continues. “We used to call them sea-pigs and it used to be said, if they were going out, it was a sign of good weather to come and if they were coming in, it was bad weather.”
“They are very sociable animals,” Ger adds. “And the noise of a boat seems to attract them. They would run along with you, kind of playing with you.”
But, says Susan Magee of Dolphin Watch in Carrigaholt: “Don’t be fooled by that quirky smile.”
While dolphins won’t necessarily harm people, they are, she points out, wild, extremely large and are aggressive predators. And she wouldn’t recommend swimming with them.
The Shannon is home to some 200 bottlenose dolphins, the single biggest pod of bottlenose dolphins in Europe, with the occasional common dolphin or porpoise. But they move around a lot, Susan explains, and you would see them in smaller groupings.
“I think what might be happening this year is, the weather is so good, people are noticing them more. Sea conditions are flat,” she explained.
“It is all down to the fish. It depends on what fish they are looking for. Mackerel are slow to come in this year and maybe the dolphins are going more east for other fish.”
But the weather has certainly been good for business at Dolphin Watch, which has been organising dolphin trips at the mouth of the Shannon for over 25 years.
“To be able to get out every day since the beginning of June has been great,” says Susan, who is joint proprietor with her husband Geoff.