Wildlife we see on Irish Waterways

View the wildlife on our waterways! 

Ireland is a beautiful country, and what better way to explore it than via our waterways. From the reeks to the shores, we have an abundance of diverse wildlife on our island. In a country where wolves and bears once roamed free, you may find these creatures a little more tame, but each exciting and important in their own ways.  

The Otter 

The Irish word for otter is madra uisce or dobhacrú’. They belong to the same family as the badger, stoat and pine marten, called mustelids. They are our most charismatic creature to feature in our waters and are thought to have inhabited our lands since the last ice age, some 10 000 years ago. These ancient mammals live in an array of aquatic habitats, from small streams to major rivers, upland lakes to coastal lagoons and sandy beaches. A fun fact about otters, is that they actually have a distinctive and pleasant smell, described to be similar to that of jasmine tea! 

Individual otters are territorial creatures and will leave their scent and droppings across their ranging territory, these marked areas are called ‘seats’. These territories will have resting places throughout, called ‘couches’, while their underground dens are known as holts.  

The species inhabiting Ireland is the Eurasian otter, and is distributed throughout Europe and all the way to china! Their European population is thought to be densest here in our country. In Ireland, their population is widely spread, although this distribution is decreasing every year. The population here in Ireland is thought to be around 12, 000 but decreases at around 5% each year. It is hoped that through their protected status in Ireland these populations will see an increase.  

Otters are carnivorous predators that opportunistically hunt anything from frogs, to crayfish to salmon. You may spot signs of an otter by their footprints and droppings. If you do spot one, contact National Parks & Wildlife Service: natureconservation@environ.ie. The hunting and trapping of otters, destruction of dens and nests is a criminal offence under Irish and EU law, if you witness this happening please contact the national park and wildlife service, listed above.  

The Daubenton Bat 

The ‘ialtóg uisce, or ‘water bat’, is a type of bat characterised by its habit of swooping low over the surface of lakes, slow moving rivers and canals. In almost a hovercraft like movement, it skims above the water in search of caddisflies, mayflies and midges, and may even scoop prey from the water surface using its rather large feet. It is not uncommon for bats to prey for insects around waterways, but none are recognised for it so much so as the Daubenton bat. It even has the ability to swim if it overestimates it’s landing and ends up in the water! 

You may see the Daubenton’s bat roosting in tunnels, under canal bridges or in damp caves. It is a small to medium-sized bat, with fluffy brownish fur, a pale silver-grey belly, and a pinkish face. Being small, these nocturnal creatures are only approximately 4.5-5.5 cm in length with a wingspan of up to 27cm. They have an average lifespan of around 4-5 years in the wild, but some have been documented to live up to 22 years! 

The best time to see these animals is between the months of April to October, twilight being their preferred hunting time. They are protected under both Irish and EU law. These animals are widely distributed throughout Ireland and their populations surveyed regularly. Due to covid-19, field surveying isn’t being done this year, so Bat Conservation Ireland is asking people to get involved. To volunteer to do a survey in your area, complete the training on their website and follow the instructions provided! Find out more at:  



There are currently four species of deer in Ireland, being the Red, Sika, Fallow and Muntjac. The only deer actually native to Ireland however is the Red deer. This deer, alongside the Irish Elk actually became extinct around 10, 500 years ago or the last ice age. The current Red Deer population in our country today is actually thought to have been descended from the native stock of Ireland, and were brought back to us or reintroduced by neolithic peoples of Britain around 3300 BC. The population now stands at around one thousand, primarily found in Kilarney National Park.  

Fallow Deer were thought to have been introduced in Norman times, and have a population of around 10, 000. Muntjac and Roe deer were both introduced in the 1860-70s and also have a stronghold population here. 

 These deer roam the mountains and forests of our island, preferring to remain close to grassland and coniferous areas and sometimes marshlands. Deer populations always remain close to water and can be viewed from our major rivers that flow through forest and grassland areas, especially in our national parks, such as Glendalough or Kilarney National Park. The best time to view these majestic creatures at the waterside is at dawn or just before.  


One cheeky little pup of a creature I have had the delight in spotting while sea-kayaking on the coast of Connemara, is the seal. There are two seal species resident in Ireland, the common seal and the grey seal. These seals belong to what is known as the ‘true’ seal family, and can be identified as having no ear, just an opening at the ear canal. They are also extremely clumsy on land as they lack a rotating pelvis. They are torpedo shaped and with removal of the ears and excess limbs, are extremely maneuverable in the water, using their speed and agility to catch prey but also escape predators. Although seals would not encounter many predators in our waters, Killer Whale pods known to grace our coasts will hunt seals.  

The grey seal roams the mid to north Atlantic and can be found on our more western and northerly shores. They travel from one country to the next but always return to the same place each year to breed and give birth. Some birth as early as August, but most pups will be birthed between October and February. Populations can also be found on rocky islands and coves. If you are ever out on your kayak in the Galway region up to Donegal, you may be lucky to spot on or even a colony on your explorations. Grey seals were almost extinct in Ireland in the early 1900s due to hunting, but have been a protected species under Irish and EU law since the 70s, and their population is now a stable 5, 000. The worldwide population is approzimately 300, 000, making our grey seals more endangered than the African Elephant.  

The common seal is more likely to be found in bays, estuaries and sheltered inlets. These are the seals you would spot around the likes of Howth harbour. They spend much of their time resting on land and restoring energy. They pup during the summer months from June up to September and are born fur-free, ready to tackle a dive in the ocean almost as soon as they arrive in our world. The common seal is also protected in Ireland since the 70s, however their numbers are becoming a special concern in Irish wildlife conservation, as their numbers decline each year, with a population of only 2, 500 on our shores.  

If you’re out in our bays or on our coastlines, a tip to spot some seals is to ‘tap’ the water with the flat of your paddle. Seals hear through vibrations under water, and they will usually pop up their heads in reaction to this to see where the noise has come from! 

If you spot a seal in distress, or in danger from the public/dogs contact Seal Rescue Ireland at 087 195 5393 or email them at info@sealrescueireland.org 

Basking Sharks 

The largest shark to take up residence in our coast lines (1 of 13 shark species in Ireland would you believe?), is the basking shark. The basking shark can average between 20 and 26 feet in length and is typically found feeding on the water’s surface. They have hundreds of small teeth, but do not worry, these creatures only feed on plankton! They are completely non-aggressive and harmless to divers/water goers. 

These large and slow creatures can actually breach and fully jump out of the ocean. They can live up to around 50 years and are a social creature, meaning they travel in schools divided by their sex.  

The basking shark is most recognisable for its gaping mouth when feeding. It is brown/grey and dappled along its body. It has a distinctive dorsal shark fin that you will spot out of the water.  

Basking shark season in Ireland usually starts around April and runs to early August. Sightings will peak around May-June, with grey opportunities to spot these creatures from both land and water due to them being so close in on the coast line.  

Calm weather after periods of sunshine is the most ideal time to catch sight of the basking shark, the calm waters making it easier to spot their dorsal fins. The sunshine increases phytoplankton and so zooplankton production on our shorelines and it is this that attracts the sharks to come up to feed.  

Basking sharks will gather wherever the plankton concentration is peaking during the summer, however there are hot spots for sightings that are definitely recognised. Sightings are most common from West Cork to West Kerry shores, and then all the way up to the North West coast of Mayo, Sligo and Donegal.  

For more information on basking shark sightings and locations, visit the Irish Basking Shark Project at www.baskingshark.ie 

So that’s all for now from us about the beautiful and diverse wildlife populations on our waterways, if you guys spot any or have spotted any cool creatures on your kayaking adventures let us know, we’d be so interested to hear what and where your sighting was! Our next wildlife installment will feature the waterbirds found across our green island.  


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