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A Survey of Bottlenose Dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) in the Shannon EstuaryThe bottlenose dolphin Tursiops truncatus is a ubiquitous species found throughout the temperate and tropical oceans of the world. The bottlenose dolphin population that occurs in the Shannon is one of only six known resident European populations. Since 1994, a small dolphin watching industry has been operating in the estuary, with plans for expansion. The objectives of this were to a) assess the degree of residency of bottlenose dolphins in the Shannon; b) estimate the population size and assess the production of calves; c) examine the social structure of the population; d) study habitat use and e) examine the effects of boats on dolphin behaviour. Boat-based surveys and photo-identification techniques were used to derive a population estimate and to examine distribution and movements of individually identifiable dolphins over a two-year period. Land-based scan samples were used to examine behavioural activity and interactions of dolphins with all categories of boat traffic. Trips on dolphin watching boats examined whether these boats were interacting with the same individual dolphins on a trip, daily or weekly basis. Dolphins were recorded in all months of the year but with a seasonal peak between May and September. Many of the identifiable dolphins were resighted throughout the study indicating a high degree of residency. Using photo-identification and mark-recapture analyses, the population estimate for the Shannon is 113 dolphins (CV 0.14, 95% C.I. 94 - 161). The presence of neonatal calves only from July – September indicates that there is a marked breeding season for this population and that the area is important as a nursery area. Group sizes ranged from singletons to groups of 32 animals and while dolphins were seen throughout the study area, groups were frequently encountered in the narrow water at Kilcredaun and in the mouth of the estuary. A second area of concentrated sightings was identified further up-river around Moneypoint and Tarbert/Killimer. This group comprised a smaller number of individuals, and the re-encounter rate of these individuals in the same area suggests a degree of habitat partitioning. These dolphins may be more vulnerable to dolphin watching activities than the more diffuse numbers in the outer estuary. The influence of tidal cycle was recorded at Kilcredaun and at Killimer/Tarbert with a distinct peak in sightings in the four-hour period before low tide. The frequency distribution of association indices shows that there are few "strong" associations between individuals and supports the notion of a fluid and gregarious social structure. Dolphin watching boats were involved in 61.8% of all interactions with dolphin groups, higher than any other category of boat. At present, two operators make approximately 200 dolphin watching trips annually, carrying a total of 2,400 passengers per year. The operators are highly successful in locating dolphins (97%) and the tour boats rarely come into contact with each other on the water and generally search in different areas and watch different groups. The potential for land-based dolphin watching was examined and possible sites identified. The information from this study provides a basis from which sound conservation management strategies can be developed, in order to properly conserve the species and its habitat, to develop a sustainable dolphin watching industry and to develop/monitor other coastal zone industries such as oil and gas exploration and shipping development within the Shannon.