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Bottlenose dolphin successfully refloated in the Shannon Estuary

Bright and early the phone calls started on Friday 1 June, just before I set off for work in Galway. A bottlenose dolphin had live-stranded on Hannon’s Strand, Béal, Co. Kerry, close to where I live. A local woman had seen “something” lying on the beach from her kitchen window and went to investigate. On the beach she found the bottlenose dolphin and so ran back home to begin a flurry of phone calls looking for help to assist the animal back into the water on a falling tide.

A text message from Dave Wall in Wicklow alerted me to the stranding and simultaneously word had spread through the National Parks and Wildlife Service and Barry O’Donoghue was also on the scene within minutes. A 3.5m female bottlenose dolphin lay on the sand approx. 10m from the waterline, she was in perfect condition and had no signs of injury. She didn’t seem in a very distressed state despite her predicament and her skin was still moist but she was starting to overheat. While we waited for supplies myself and Breda (the local woman) and Conor and Finbarr Breen kept her moist, until Barry O’Donoghue (National Parks and Wildlife Service) and local man Mike Joe Hennessey arrived with buckets and towels.

We also contacted Simon Berrow in Kilrush where the IWDG stranding pontoons are located. As we busied ourselves keeping the dolphin upright and keeping her moist, we discussed our best course of action. We could have the pontoons from Kilrush by 10am which would help us refloat the animal but how would we get the animal near the water in order to use these. We eventually decided to try an alternative plan while we waited.

Finbarr sent Conor off for a tractor equipped with a large transport box on the back. When he returned we dug the transport box in under the animal, taking care of her pectoral fins and lifted her out of the sand. We all made sure she remained in a motionless position as Conor backed the tractor into the sea as far as he could. He lowered the box slowly into the water and we were able to stabilise the dolphin for a few minutes and let her get acclimatised. She quickly steadied herself after a few minutes and with direction from Barry, she started to swim away from the shore. She quickly increased her swimming speed and we observed her swimming for about 10 minutes before she was out of view.

Thankfully, this was one of the success stories from a live stranding. We were extremely lucky the local people were so quick thinking and helpful or things might not have turned out so well. The dolphin had no nicks on her dorsal fin but had 3 rake marks on the right hand side of her fin. We will compare this image with those from the Shannon Dolphin and Wildlife Foundation photo-id catalogue of the resident dolphins in the Shannon Estuary and see if the individual stranded had previously been recorded.

A huge thank you to Breda, Conor and Finbarr Breen, Mike Jo Hennessey, Mark O’Brien and all the other helpful people on the beach who joined in on the rescue. Thanks also to Neil Cheape who was on his way with the pontoons from Kilrush but thanks to the Breen’s was spared a wasted trip.

Joanne O’Brien (SDWF) and
Barry O’Donoghue (NPWS)


Special Area of Conservation (SAC)


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The SDWF is supported by the following agencies... Shannon Development Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government Marine Institute Clare County Council Kilrush Urban District Counil
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