St. Patrick’s Day chaos on Antrim Coast Road

18th Mar 2008 No, IWDG are not doing traffic reports now, but the pulling power of dolphins was once more demonstrated on St. Patrick's Day in Co. Antrim as cars just stopped on the coast road to watch this group of bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus). Tina and I first got sight of them from the hills above Carnlough on a glorious spring day. Tina, (what sharp little eyes she has) picked up a lot of splashing in Carnlough Bay and they were quickly identified as a very active group of bottlenose.


We watched them make their way southwards towards Glenarm and even at that distance their identity was obvious. Adults and young regularly breached clear of the water, displayed tail-stock and flukes as they stood on their heads, rolled and generally put on a fantastic show. Initially in a tight group, they split up as some moved inshore towards a small boat while others stayed further offshore. Interaction with the boat was obvious with some attempts at bow-riding to limited effect given the small size of the bow wave.

We quickly got back to the car (cursing the absence of a telescope and good camera) to head off and find them, hoping that we could pick up their trail again. No problems there, as the roadside south of Glenarm was filled with parked cars hastily pulled up as the dolphins moved within 500m or less of the shore – you could not miss them. With good sea conditions and no glare they made a very impressive sight.

The afternoon was calm and cold enough to enable us see their blows with ease. An initial scan over the bay confirmed that there were some 25 dolphins including a minimum of 4 calves. This was the first time I had seen calves so close – they were regularly breaching showing their pale colouration. Not only did the colour contrast with the darker appearance of the adults, they also made the adults appear gigantic – and they were – with a number of them probably touching the 4m or so maximum length for this species. The impression of size was also affected by my years of watching Harbour Porpoise along this coast – no doubt the south coast lads remark on the petit nature of the bottlenose after hours of watching nothing but fin Whales!

We spent the next 2 hours making our way to successive vantage points as the dolphins steered south. Making progress on the road was difficult as everywhere cars were pulling up so that all could get a view – just underlines what IWDG already know – people love dolphins.

Traffic chaos, Glenarm Bay, Co. Antrim 17/03/08 © Ian Enlander, IWDG

I could not help but wish that this show had been held back for Whale Watch Ireland 2008 (24th August just to remind you) – that would really be a crowd pleaser. Chatting to people, their excitement was obvious. We found out that the dolphins were first seen earlier in the day at Waterfoot, some 20km to the north – quite a number of folk had spent the entire afternoon following their progress. No doubt what the main topic of conversation will be in many households and pubs tonight.

Bottlenose dolphins are by no means common around Co. Antrim with only 20 sightings recorded by IWDG over the past 10 years. There are another 12 when you add the rest of Northern Ireland – compare this with the 132 Donegal records and similar or greater numbers for most of the west coast counties. Interestingly, there was a large movement of this species in roughly the same area last year – a maximum count of 80 was seen in at Carnlough on 19th June 2007. This sighting was part of a large movement recorded through the 3rd week of June and ranging from Portush and Kenbane Head on the north coast to Waterfoot and Carnlough on the east. Keep your eyes open – there may be more out there.

IWDG welcome all cetacean sighting records, which