There is a famous dolphin in our midst — Spirtle the sunburned Scottish dolphin has made her way down the east coast of Ireland and is now swimming off the Cork and Kerry coast.
Spirtle, a bottlenose dolphin from northern Scotland, became somewhat of a celebrity in May 2016, after she became stranded on mudflats and was very badly sunburnt, losing a lot of skin on the right-hand side of her back.
She was rescued and re-floated, but researchers did not think she would survive. However, three years later she has done more than survive, taking on adventures more than 1,000km long and making friends with Irish dolphins along the way.
Her once red-raw-back is fully healed, meaning she has a spectacular black-and-white speckled back. There were sightings of Spirtle along the Dublin coast in July, and then more sightings of her as far west as Fenit in Co Kerry.
Yesterday, the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group (IWDG), who have been tracking her, released an update of Spirtle’s recent adventures.
She was first seen off Fenit on July 7. Joanne O’Brien, a researcher from Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology and an officer with the IWDG, took out the research vessel Celtic Mist, formerly owned by the late taoiseach Charles Haughey, and captured footage of her on July 12.
“Last week, on Wednesday (August 14), more images were obtained by the IWDG off Samphire Island of Spirtle in a group of five to six individuals including a juvenile,” said Pádraig Whooley, sightings officer with the IWDG.
The challenge is now to determine whether Spirtle made the 1,000km voyage alone and joined a pod of dolphins here, or if she travelled south with Scottish-based dolphins. The IWDG are busy capturing photos of Spirtle and her companions and sending them back to researchers in the University of Aberdeen’s research centre.
Charlie Phillips, a photographer in Scotland who knows Spirtle well, is certain that he has spotted her mother in the photos taken by the IWDG. The photographer said he has tracked the journeys of dolphins between Scotland and Ireland before, but he is not sure how common the behaviour really is.
The IWDG said Tralee Bay has become a popular spot for bottlenose dolphins in recent times, with the area having its own population, as well as receiving famous summer guests. The public is asked to report any more sightings of Spirtle, who is now so healthy that she is often seen leading her companions, to the IWDG.