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Research Suggests "Missing" Bottlenose Dolphins More Likely to Migrate Than Die

29th October 2020
In relation to Fungie, estimated to be 37 years old, the IWDG says that “as the time increases without a sighting and the search effort continues", it is "more likely" that he is dead rather than just simply missing. In relation to Fungie, estimated to be 37 years old, the IWDG says that “as the time increases without a sighting and the search effort continues", it is "more likely" that he is dead rather than just simply missing.

As hopes fade of Fungie’s return to Dingle, research suggests that “missing” dolphins are more likely to have migrated than died.

Dolphins in the Shannon estuary which were initially presumed to have perished had in fact moved to nearby bays, according to research published by the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group (IWDG).

The study by Kim Ellen Ludwig of Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology (GMIT) found that the “missing” dolphins had “emigrated” to Tralee and Brandon bays in Kerry, south of the Shannon estuary.

The Shannon estuary’s population of around 140 dolphins provided a good sample for the study, which Ms Ludwig conducted in collaboration with the IWDG.

The IWDG – a registered charity founded by Dr Simon Berrow in 1990 - has been monitoring the Shannon bottlenose dolphins since 1993. It constitutes the longest running whale or dolphin study in Ireland.

The group recently explored its 27-year old identification dataset to see if it could answer the question as to when to consider a dolphin as “dead” rather than missing.

Dolphins and whales are highly mobile, ranging thousands of kilometres.

Survival of young dolphins or calves is easier to monitor when they are dependent on their mothers for survival and is more difficult when calves are weaned.

The study with Ms Ludwig indicated that survival rate was 95.6% for “well-marked individual dolphins”- which means around 4.4% of adult dolphins die each year.

“For less well-marked individuals, survival increases to 5.8%, due to the higher chance a dolphin is “missed” during surveys,” it says.

The IWDG says that Ms Ludwig’s work highlights “a really important confounding factor, that of emigration outside the Shannon estuary to adjacent Tralee and Brandon bays”.

The dolphins had been presumed dead as these two bays are not routinely sampled during monitoring surveys.

Only by extending their surveys, did the IWDG realise that the dolphins were alive and well, and had extended their range.

Scientists with the IWDG are now recommending that the boundary of the lower river Shannon special area of conservation be extended to protect the important habitats of the bottlenose dolphins.

The group also suggests the area could be designated as a marine protected area as an alternative strategy.

In relation to Fungie, estimated to be 37 years old, the IWDG says that “as the time increases without a sighting and the search effort continues", it is "more likely" that he is dead rather than just simply missing.

However “his legacy will live on for years”, it says.

Published in Marine Wildlife
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Marine Wildlife Around Ireland One of the greatest memories of any day spent boating around the Irish coast is an encounter with marine wildlife.  It's a thrill for young and old to witness seabirds, seals, dolphins and whales right there in their own habitat. As boaters fortunate enough to have experienced it will testify even spotting a distant dorsal fin can be the highlight of any day afloat.  Was that a porpoise? Was it a whale? No matter how brief the glimpse it's a privilege to share the seas with Irish marine wildlife.

Thanks to the location of our beautiful little island, perched in the North Atlantic Ocean there appears to be no shortage of marine life to observe.

From whales to dolphins, seals, sharks and other ocean animals this page documents the most interesting accounts of marine wildlife around our shores. We're keen to receive your observations, your photos, links and youtube clips.

Boaters have a unique perspective and all those who go afloat, from inshore kayaking to offshore yacht racing that what they encounter can be of real value to specialist organisations such as the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group (IWDG) who compile a list of sightings and strandings. The IWDG knowledge base has increased over the past 21 years thanks in part at least to the observations of sailors, anglers, kayakers and boaters.

Thanks to the IWDG work we now know we share the seas with dozens of species who also call Ireland home. Here's the current list: Atlantic white-sided dolphin, beluga whale, blue whale, bottlenose dolphin, common dolphin, Cuvier's beaked whale, false killer whale, fin whale, Gervais' beaked whale, harbour porpoise, humpback whale, killer whale, minke whale, northern bottlenose whale, northern right whale, pilot whale, pygmy sperm whale, Risso's dolphin, sei whale, Sowerby's beaked whale, sperm whale, striped dolphin, True's beaked whale and white-beaked dolphin.

But as impressive as the species list is the IWDG believe there are still gaps in our knowledge. Next time you are out on the ocean waves keep a sharp look out!

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