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A dreary, stormy day in Dublin city centre was brightened with the appearance of a common dolphin swimming up the River Liffey as far as the Loopline Bridge.

The Irish Whale and Dolphin Group (IWDG) says it got its first reports early this morning (Wednesday 28 November) from the Jeanie Johnston, whose John O’Neill shot this video of the solo cetacean swimming loops in the river.

It was spotted swimming strongly as far west as Liberty Hall around lunchtime before heading back east and towards Dublin Bay.

Dolphins are known to develop kidney and skin problems on prolonged exposure to freshwater environments such as rivers.

However, the IWDG moved to assuage public concerns over this particular animal — saying that if it was swimming as strongly as sightings suggested, it would be more than able to swim back to sea.

It’s suggested that this short-beaked visitor may be one of a pod of some 20 dolphins known to be feeding off the East Coast this month.

Published in Marine Wildlife

#MarineWildlife - Video posted on social media over the weekend of two killer whales spotted off the Co Dublin coast has gone viral.

Trawlerman James Mac Cluskey used his phone to record a few seconds’ glimpse of the pair of male orcas, which came close to his boat some 8km off Rockabill on Saturday afternoon (17 November).

According to the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group (IWDG), it’s the second sighting of the largest species in the dolphin family off the East Coast in recent weeks, with another fisherman reporting an encounter some 22km off Skerries on 30 October.

And it’s believed the duo may be part of the Scottish West Coast Community Group, a unique orca pod long under threat of extinction owning to not having produced any calves for years.

Earlier this year, whales from this group were identified feeding off the Blasket Islands in Co Kerry, showing just how far their range extends.

Published in Marine Wildlife

#MarineWildlife - The Irish Whale and Dolphin Group’s (IWDG) datasets for cetacean sightings and strandings around the Irish coast are now back online after previous versions were corrupted in a cyber attack.

The launch coincided with the hosting in Kilkenny last week of the 25th meeting of the Global Biodiversity Information Facility (GBIF), an international network aimed at providing open access to data about life on Earth, marine wildlife included.

Twelve months of sighting and stranding data — including the recent ‘unusual mortality event’ of Cuvier’s beaked whales — can now be accessed, searchable by species, recorder, date and location, and all sightings are mappable.

Longer-term data is also available on request, for example for undergrad or postgraduate student projects.

All information in these datasets is provided by the IWDG’s loose network of volunteers around the island of Ireland, and is hailed by the group’s chief Dr Simon Berrow as “an excellent example of what can be achieved through citizen science.”

Dr Berrow adds: “Our recording schemes receive very little funding support. The sighting scheme gets no funding and currently the stranding scheme receives grant support of €10,000 from the NPWS, but it is not guaranteed and depends on other NPWS funding obligations.

“IWDG are committed to maintaining these recording schemes in the long term, as its only with time that we can identify trends; whether they are new threats to whale and dolphin populations or changing distributions driven by climate change and other large scale events.”

Both recording schemes have been run and supported by Pádraig Whooley and Mick O'Connell on behalf of the IWDG for over 20 years, and Dr Berrow says the information collected comprises “some of the most robust data in Europe to address key environmental issues and meet legal obligations.

“None of this would be possible without the IWDG members and non-members who go to great lengths to report strandings and sightings and take our calls to head out to the beaches and headlands all around Ireland to collect another data point. To them we offer our respect and thanks.”

Among the more recent sightings you’re likely to find is Boomerang, the humpback whale with the distinctive dorsal fin who’s made Ireland a regular stop since 2001.

He was spotted off the Clare and Kerry coast last month, as the Irish Mirror reports — and his return is a good omen for the quality of the ocean around Ireland, Dr Berrow suggests.

Published in Marine Wildlife

#MarineWildlife - The Department of Foreign Affairs will assist with an investigation into the extraordinary numbers of Cuvier’s beaked whale deaths in Irish waters over recent weeks.

Tánaiste and Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney has “instructed his department, in consultation with the National Parks and Wildlife Service, to initiate discussions regarding these about large number of stranded Cuvier's beaked whales with the UK authorities,” according to the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group.

As previously reported on Afloat.ie, the IWDG had expressed concern over the large numbers of dead beaked whales washed up on Ireland’s North West coast last month.

The total of whale strandings since the beginning of August has now risen to 58 across Ireland and Scotland, many of them Cuvier’s or True’s beaked whales, as BBC News reports.

Published in Marine Wildlife

#MarineWildlife - The Papal visit brought numbers down for 2018’s Whale Watch Ireland last Saturday (25 August).

But some 950 wildlife enthusiasts still came out to 19 sites around the island of Ireland for the chance to spot some of the many whales, dolphins, porpoise and other wildlife in our waters.

Most sites reported a reduction in numbers, with only three seeing a modest increase. But it’s expected that next year’s turnout will be back to it regular size, coinciding as ever with events for Heritage Week.

Sightings were also lower this year — on average a 43% reduction on 2017’s records — with only three cetacean species spotted, namely harbour porpoise (50), common dolphins (40) and minke whales (5).

The success or otherwise of event is generally determined by the prevailing weather on the day, and thankfully most sites were treated to calm seas and clear skies which resulted in cetacean sightings at three-quarters of the sites covered at this year’s event.

Other species noted include grey seals, a basking shark and a sunfish.

Despite the lower attendance and sighting rates, the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group says it is “very pleased” with this year’s results.

“And we hope that among those who attended, there will be some new members for IWDG and dedicated whale watchers who are willing to volunteer some of their time and energy in furthering our understanding of the whales and dolphins that live in Irish coastal waters.”

The IWDG reports that usual there was a mix of both Irish and overseas visitors to the watches, and for many attending this was their first encounter with a cetacean in the wild in Irish waters.

Published in Marine Wildlife

#MarineWildlife - The Irish Whale and Dolphin Group (IWDG) has expressed concern in the wake of at least 16 Cuvier’s beaked whales washing up on the Irish coast this month.

Following the discovery of five beaked whales in a single day at the start of August, the IWDG says a minimum of 16 — a new Irish record — were recorded along the North West coast from Galway to Donegal between 3 and 22 August.

“During the same period, at least 13 were found in Scotland and two in Iceland,” said IWDG strandings officer Mick O’Connell.

“Previous studies have suggested that only a small number of dead animals actually get washed ashore and recorded, so the number of dead animals may be significantly higher.”

While no cause of death has been established, due to the poor condition of the carcasses, it appears that the animals all died around the same time, which “makes causes such as disease, plastic ingestion etc seem unlikely as these would tend to be spread out over a longer time period and perhaps geographical range,” O’Connell said.

“The behaviour and distribution of this species makes large-scale fisheries interaction also seem unlikely.”

Sonar use has been suspected as a cause in previous similar strandings. “Mass strandings of beaked whales coincidental with naval exercises have been recorded in Greece, the Canaries and the Bahamas,” O’Connell said.

According to TheJournal.ie, the Royal Navy denies its use of sonar in training exercises causes any harm to marine wildlife.

The Naval Service in Ireland does not use sonar on its vessels.

In more positive marine mammal news, Nuala Moore writes for Independent.ie about her experiences swimming in Dingle harbour with its longtime resident dolphin Fungie.

The open sea swimming enthusiast made headlines earlier this year for becoming the first Irish woman to swim off Cape Horn.

But in Dingle, she’s just another acquaintance for Fungie in his daily adventures.

Published in Marine Wildlife

#MarineWildlife - Ireland’s annual whale watch day takes place next Saturday 25 August — and the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group invites the public to join its land-based whale watches around the island of Ireland.

From 2pm to 5pm next Saturday, the IWDG’s volunteers will be raising awareness of the 25 species of cetaceans — porpoises, dolphins and whales — recorded to date in all Irish waters, and giving the public a great opportunity to look for and observe some of these wonderful marine mammals in their natural environment.

Whale Watch Ireland also provides IWDG researchers with a unique snapshot of whale and dolphin activity around the Irish coast on the day.

This annual, all-island citizen science event, organised by the IWDG in association with Inis the Energy of the Sea, is free and open to all as part of Heritage Week, co-ordinated by The Heritage Council.

All watches are land-based and will be led by experienced IWDG researchers and whale watchers, who will show you how to observe and identify some of the more commonly recorded cetacean species in Irish waters and who will be available to discuss the conservation work of the IWDG.

To make the most of the day, bring binoculars or a spotting scope, and dress appropriately for outdoor weather conditions. There are no boat trips involved and there is no guarantee that you will see whales or dolphins at your chosen site.

But at last year’s event, whales or dolphins were recorded at three-quarters of sites around the Irish coast.

The full list of watching locations, with watch leader contacts, is as follows:

Published in Marine Wildlife

#MarineWildlife - Five dead whales have been found along Ireland's west coast and as BBC News reports, they may have been caused by naval sonar, an expert has said.

Dr Simon Berrow, of the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group (IWDG), said the Cuvier's beaked whales' deaths were "highly unusual".

Three of the whales washed ashore in Co. Donegal on 4 August while another was discovered 12 miles off shore.

A beaked whale was also discovered in Co. Mayo on the same day.

Dr Berrow said usually about three strandings of beaked whales were reported in Ireland every year.

For more on this story, click here.

Published in Marine Wildlife

#OnTV - Be sure to tune in to RTÉ One’s Nationwide tomorrow evening (Monday 30 July) for a special feature on whale watching and the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group’s (IWDG) conservation and research work.

RTÉ filmed with IWDG sightings officer Pádraig Whooley in October 2017 and more recently in mid May of this year, when presenter Anne Cassin and the Nationwide team travelled to West Cork for a day out with Cork Whale Watch.

It proved to be the perfect day for whale watching as the team filmed as many as 30 minke whales, more than 100 common dolphins, and the humpback whale known as HBIRL82.

See the results from 7pm on Monday 30 July on RTÉ One and later on the RTÉ Player.

Published in Maritime TV

#CelticMist - The Celtic Mist’s historic marine wildlife survey voyage to Iceland is complete, with the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group (IWDG) recording nearly 100 sightings over the course of the month.

The research yacht set sail with a crew of wildlife enthusiasts and marine scientists in late May for the 2018 IWDG Humpback Whale Expedition, taking less than a week to cross the North Atlantic to the edge of the Arctic Circle.

Week one began on 31 May on arrival at Vestmannaeyjar in the south, following a clockwise route round to Reykjavik — minke whales, humpbacks and dolphins recorded along the way.

Though sightings were slim in number, the Celtic Mist team hailed “great engagement with both Icelandic people and people from overseas working in Iceland”.

“From the Marine and Freshwater Research Institute to tour operators and guides and visiting scientists, all have given us insights into life in Iceland and whaling and whale-watching issues,” said the IWDG’s Simon Berrow.

Week two was spent amid poor conditions in Iceland’s remote West Fjords — with sea ice and stormy weather keeping the Celtic Mist firmly in part at Isafjordur for the first few days.

But later in the week, patience was rewarded with the sighting of five humpback whales, the majority of a group known to the area but never recorded further south-east in Irish waters.

Week three brought a crew change and a break in the weather allowing passage to the north-west peninsula of Hornstrandir — still a challenge with rolling seas overnight.

“In almost 21 hours of sailing in some of the most productive waters on the planet and in reasonable viewing conditions and 24 hours daylight, we didn’t have a single cetacean sighting,” remarked IWDG sightings officer Pádraig Wholley.

“It would be inconceivable that Celtic Mist would survey for a whole day in Irish waters without a single sighting entry being input into the logger software that we were running throughout.

“This was our first strong evidence that if you want to find marine mammals in Icelandic waters, that open waters may not be the place to be looking.”

Week four took the IWDG to the “poorly surveyed” East Fjords, via the Arctic Circle — in bright midnight sun instead of the common sea fogs. Sightings remained consistent, with no big whales spotted on Iceland’s eastern coast.

The Celtic Mist was due back in Ireland by tomorrow (Friday 13 July) when the mammoth task of sorting through all the recorded data and images begins.

But perhaps the greatest takeaway the voyage is in the connections made with Icelanders around their coastline, suggests Berrow.

“We have achieved all our objectives and built strong links with Iceland and its people. We have discussed fishing, whaling, whale watching and the weather.

“We have a great appreciation of these issues and the differing perspectives and challenges faced which ultimately will be decided by Icelanders.”

Published in Marine Wildlife
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