The attraction of dolphins to people is unquestionable; the presence of a resident group of bottlenose dolphins provides the opportunity for long term planning in a sustainable dolphin watching industry. There is a fine balance between providing the opportunity for people to observe whales and dolphins in their natural environment, with the increased understanding and respect that this nurtures, and avoiding excessive and debilitating disturbance to the animals.
In August ’99 Dủchas-the Irish Heritage Service took the first concrete steps to ensure the conservation and protection of the local population of dolphins by nominating the Shannon estuary as Ireland’s first marine Special Area of Conservation (SAC) making dolphin watching a notifiable activity.
On Friday 2nd June 2000 Minister Sile de Valera TD launched “Saoirse na Sionna” (Freedom of the Shannon). This is a tour boat accreditation scheme for dolphin-watching boats in the Shannon estuary and a very important event in the conservation of bottlenose dolphins in the Shannon estuary and for the development of sustainable dolphin watching. It marked the first contribution by the newly formed Shannon Dolphin and Wildlife Foundation and was the culmination of hard work by a number of committed people and organizations including dolphin-watching operators, Duchas, regional authorities and local people. All vessels that are approved under the scheme fly the dolphin friendly flag and abide by the following codes of conduct.