Belfast Telegraph

Dolphin showtime at Belfast Lough

Acrobatic bottlenoses amaze onlookers

By Linda Stewart

The wild bottlenose dolphins of Belfast Lough have been putting on a show for onlookers.

The dolphins are now frequent visitors to the waters of the lough and it seems every time they come their displays get more acrobatic.

The pod of at least 20 were spotted swimming and playing off the shore at Whitehead on a warm bright evening last Friday.

In the clear, calm conditions, a number of kayakers were able to approach the pod and witness the spectacle at close quarters.

Even people on the shore were able to observe the dolphins’ antics and take pictures of them jumping out of the water.

One witness said: “The school, which included some calves, appeared to take great interest in the visitors and performed some spectacular acrobatic jumps”.

Bottlenose dolphins are a protected species. A few years ago they were a rare sight off the Irish coast but have now become more regular visitors.

“Experts believe that they generally move to areas with the greatest concentration of food as opposed to any global warming influence.

“They enjoy a varied diet of eels, catfish, crabs and mullet.”

Ian Enlander of the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group (IWDG) said the dolphins are almost certainly members of the same pod that has been sighted along the north coast repeatedly in recent weeks.

Experts studying the pattern of damage to their dorsal fins have found that these dolphins are an entirely separate group from the one that lives permanently in the Shannon estuary, one of only four groups resident at different points along the coast of Europe.

“It's safe to say that these are the same ones that were seen in Portrush,” Mr Enlander said.

“It’s probably just following on from the general pattern since 2005/6 of an increased presence of bottlenose dolphins along the east coast of Ireland, anywhere from Derry right round to Wicklow and Arklow.

“Previously it had been a bit of a quiet zone for bottlenose dolphins, but over the last six years they have been getting more and more frequent.

“This could just be a new group that has moved into Irish waters and stayed. The likelihood is that it’s the same group of individuals plus or minus some extras that have been utilising the Irish coastline — which has implications for conservation.

“There is no point in one place being identified as a core zone for them, as they use the entire area.”

Mr Enlander said the pattern of sightings strengthens the case IWDG is making with its online petition calling for the designation of all European waters as a sanctuary for all cetacean species.

He said all European waters should be designated a sanctuary, meaning the presence of cetaceans would be taken into consideration when making decisions at EU level.

Mr Enlander said the discovery the dolphins are a different group than the one in the Shannon estuary underlines the importance of people taking high definition photographs when they make sightings, particularly of dorsal fins, and passing them on to the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group.

“It means we can use that information for the ongoing matching process to begin to fill in the life stories of particular individuals and discover where they turned up previously,” he said.

Factfile

Latin name: Tursiops truncatus.

Irish name: Deilf bolgshrónach

Identification: The over-riding impression of the bottlenose is the height of the fin, bulk of their frame and their strong, deliberate back arch as they dive after breathing. Usually seen in small groups, they surface two to three times a minute. Dives usually last about a minute but some have been timed at 10 minutes. They have been observed surf-riding in shore breakers or on storm waves in mid ocean.

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