Fresh hopes for 'foraging' Bottlenose Dolphins in Clare river

Dolphins pictured in the Ratty River
Calls have been made for three dolphins which have taken up residence in Co Clare river, to be left alone so that they can return to the Shannon Estuary, Pat Flynn writes for TMT.

The three mammals were discovered close to the old bridge over the Ratty River in Bunratty on Sunday evening.

Concerned for their wellbeing, members of the public raised the alarm and volunteers from Bunratty Search and Rescue launched their boat to investigate the siting.

Rescuers confirmed the presence of three dolphins in the murky waters close to Durty Nellys pub just yards from Bunratty Castle. Team members attempted to coax the mammals back under the bridge but they were reluctant to move.

As more onlookers gathered to observe the spectacle, there were fears that people would start entering the river to help the dolphins.

As a result the Irish Coast Guard marine rescue coordination centre on Valentia Island in Co Kerry mobilised the Killaloe unit of the service to the scene.

It had been thought the mammals were common dolphins, an open-water species, and that they would strand and die on the river bank.

However the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group (IWDG) now believes they are in fact bottlenose dolphins which have been known to go foraging for food in rivers.

IWDG coordinator Dr SImon Berrow said: "We have confirmed from video footage that they are bottlenose dolphins and are likely to belong to the resident population of Shannon Estuary bottlenose dolphins. They should be left to swim back into the Shannon Estuary catchment on their own."

"The Shannon Estuary is a Special Area of Conservation for bottlenose dolphins and thus they and their habitat is fully protected," Dr Berrow said.

"Although it is very unusual to see dolphins this far up a muddy creek, recent acoustic monitoring carried out by the Shannon Dolphin and Wildlife Foundation (SWDF) has recorded bottlenose dolphins on 15% of days off Shannon Airport and 25% of days off Aughinish; thus bottlenose dolphins are upriver much more than we previously thought," he added.

Large crowds have been gathering on the bridge in recent days however the dolphins have not attempted to pass beneath since they arrived on Sunday.

Dr Berrow believes: "The dolphins in the video do not seem to be stressed, but local observers suggest they seem reluctant to pass under the bridge. However, they must have swam under this bridge to get to their present location. SDWF & IWDG recommend that the dolphins are left alone to swim back down the creek on their own terms. Obviously if they become stressed (as determined by breathing rate) then some intervention may be required."

Bottlenose dolphins in the Shannon Estuary are frequently observed foraging in shallow waters around the estuary and are well use to being in very shallow water. The IWDG believes it extremely unlikely that they will strand but says the situation needs to be monitored.

"We'd ask any local rescue agencies to consult with IWDG and the National Parks and Wildlife Service before taking any measures which may disturb these animals. Based on footage viewed they look fit and healthy and appear to be foraging, perhaps on an early season salmon run," Dr Berrow added.