Bottlenose Bonanza for N. Ireland....again!

8th Dec 2008 Once again bottlenose dolphins have appeared along the Antrim coast in an impressive aggregation of at least 100 animals.

As if on cue for this Thursdays public lecture in the Portrush Coastal Zone, titled ...."Monitoring Northern Irelands' Cetaceans" (full details below), the Antrim coast has produced another unprecedented aggregation of bottlenose dolphins Tursiops truncatus

Readers of this site could be forgiven for thinking that you have to be in West Cork to see impressive cetacean activity at this time of year. Wrong. Although it does seem to help if you have the letters "GALLEY" in the location name!

Initial reports came from local fisherman Philip Galbraith who reported this unusual activity to NIEA staff member and IWDG director Ian Enlander. The report was of bottlenose dolphins, and this was confirmed by the images which Philip secured on his mobile phone. But it was the sheer numbers of animals that shocked us, as the initial guesstimate was of at least 100 animals. But as the day progressed this estimate was pushed upwards towards 500 and dare I say it..beyond. Bearing in mind that mean group sizes for this species is 6-10 individuals, you'll appreciate our surprise at the numbers being discussed here. Bottlenose dolphins Red Bay 17/06/07© Pauline Majury


Philip's online sighting report describes their being well spread out over a wide area from Isle of Muck towards Skernaghan Point and Black Arch, and all observers agree that they were travelling northbound at high speed estimated at 10-12 knots. Ian caught up with what may have been only a portion of the group at Carnfunnock Country Park just south of Ballygalley Head at 14:45 and confirmed their species and his best estimate was c50 bottlenose.

Bottlenose dolphins Red Bay 17/06/07© Pauline Majury

David and Philip will consult with Larne Port Control tomorrow to see if they can get another opinion on the group size from the captain of the ferry Stena Pioneer which travelled through the area in which the dolphins were active.

Once again, this is a great news story as pre-2006 bottlenose dolphins hardly featured on the cetacean diversity list for Northern Irish waters. Yet a glance at the advanced search facility on www.iwdg.ie shows that in 2006 there were just 5 sightings of this species, which grew to 12 in 2007 and is currently at 22 for 2008, with a few weeks to go.

A study by Joanne O'Brien of GMIT this summer has matched individuals bottlenose dolphins from all around the Irish coast, showing this species is highly mobile. One match of particular interest is one dolphin seen in Donegal Bay in July 2008 was also seen off North Antrim, three months later. If any images are obtained of the present group please send them to the IWDG and we will see if they have ben observed at any other site around the coast.

So another good news story which suggests that this isn't a once off chance encounter, but that these most charasmatic of the dolphin family may be returning to these waters, from which they've been largely absent.

A huge thank you to Philip and David Galbraith and Ian Enlander for taking the time to keep IWDG informed of this activity. We'll do our best to keep you updated on this story as such a large movement of active dolphins is likely to be observed by many enthusiast along the Antrim coast..... that is assuming everyone isn't Christmas shopping!

b>Pádraig Whooley

IWDG Sightings Co-ordinator


Details on this Thursdays public talk

Monitoring Northern Irelands' whales, dolphins and porpoises by Gary Burrows Coastal an Marine Communication Officer with the Northern Ireland Environment Agency at the Coastal Zone Centre, Portrush, Co Antrim at 7:30pm. Booking essential on 028 7082 3600.