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Voyages in IWDG's Celtic Mist Reveal Plenty of Marine Wildlife in Irish Waters

15th January 2016
celtic_mist
Celtic Mist voyaging out to the edge of Ireland in search of whales Air Corps

Voyages out as far as the edge of the Continental Shelf on the Atlantic Ocean has produced rare sightings for the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group and this August there is a chance to see the join the crew and see the whales again writes Patrick Lyne

Back in 2012 when the Celtic Mist became available to the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group we were looking at ways the boat could be used to support the work the Group does and demonstrate to people in Ireland the wealth of life that exists in Irish waters. So for three years from 2012 to 2014 we took the Celtic Mist to the shelf edge in early September. Indeed we were blessed when first arriving on the shelf edge only to be greeted by two blue whales. It took several minutes in close proximity (200m) to the whales before we believed our eyes. We had expected large whales but not those to be waiting for us. They stayed around and passed either side of the boat moving from port to starboard for what seemed like an age, before moving further away. We could manage a top speed of maybe 8 knots while blue whales could travel at up to 25 knots approximately and there was no way we could keep pace with these animals if they decided to leave us behind.

Shortly afterwards the Irish Air Corps Casa (C253) appeared and called on the radio and managed to get some excellent shots of both the Celtic Mist and the blue whales.

blue whales Porcupine SeabightTwo blue whales in the Porcupine Seabight 60 miles off the Irish coast (Photo coutesy of Irish Air Corps)

In 2013 had some remarkable sightings of beaked whales again in the Porcupine Seabight and while unable to confirm that the animals that passed close to the vessel in 2013, were True’s beaked whales, it seems highly probable that they were. Beaked whales are particularly difficult to study being adverse to noise and spending large periods of time underwater. The Cuvier’s beaked whale holds the record for the longest recorded dive of any cetacean of 2 hours 17 minutes while attaining a depth of 2,992m. These animals are rarely seen close to shore and when they are, they often end up stranding and dying. The deep ocean off the shelf edge is their natural habitat.

Each year has produced it’s own spectcular moments and the humpback whales off Dingle have become more and more reliable and are a feature of our trips every year. Last year we were treated to one beautiful day on the shelf edge with calm weather. It is this calm weather that always produces the best results. While whales numbers wer not spectacular they were considerable and most if not all animals were engaged in feeding. We simply allowed the boat to drift while fin whales fed in close proimity to the boat and we could see the huge jaws opening to envelope the krill underwater.

Last year we changed vessels to Jessy of Adrigole a 37 ft–yacht, the Celtic Mist being unavailable and this year we have decided to continue using Jessy but for a longer trip. We propose starting in Castletownbere and sailing to Camaret in Brittany along the shelf edge. The shelf edge between here and Brittany is some of the most dramatic in the world with drop offs from 200m down to nearly 4000m. The EEZ of the UK is slowly squeezed such that French and Irish waters will eventually meet as boundaries extend.

It is more important than ever to record the variety and abundance of Ireland’s offshore environment. While oil exploration will suffer from the current over supply, exploration rights has been granted to both Russia and France by the International Seabed Authority (ISA – not the Irish Sailing Association but a UN body based in Jamaica) in the mid-Atlantic Ridge in the North Atlantic. The marine environment is constantly under greater and greater pressure. Protection for cetaceans is critical to mainting the entire marine habitat. Reduction in large whale numbers in the Southern Ocean due to whaling did not result in an increase in their favourite prey, krill, but rather reduced krill abundance. Whale faeces enriches the ocean with iron, producing plankton blooms which start the food chain and absorb excess carbon from the atmosphere. The South West in particualr sees large numbers of tuna arrive in August and September, follwoed by French and Spanish and Irish fishing vessel as well as whales. It is important for the whales that they are able to build blubber reserves at this time, especially for the females as without sufficient reserves to sustain them during pregnancy of 11 or 12 months, the whale will abort. Recovery rates are slow with these large whales and even with protection it will be manay many decades before fin and blue whale numbers reach pre-whaling levels.

Fin whale feeding
Fin whale feeding Porcupine Seabight (Photo – Patrick Lyne IWDG)

In August we will embark again to try and find calm weather on the shelf edge and hope to add significantly to the picture of cetaceans in Irish waters in a time when they are at their most abundant. It is a unique opportunity for people to become involved with our marine mega fauna in a way not available elsewhere and to add to knowledge of the area. The charge to crew of €1310 allows the work to take place and is an enriching experience and an education. If interested contact Patrick Lyne by email ([email protected]).

Published in Marine Wildlife
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Marine Wildlife Around Ireland One of the greatest memories of any day spent boating around the Irish coast is an encounter with marine wildlife.  It's a thrill for young and old to witness seabirds, seals, dolphins and whales right there in their own habitat. As boaters fortunate enough to have experienced it will testify even spotting a distant dorsal fin can be the highlight of any day afloat.  Was that a porpoise? Was it a whale? No matter how brief the glimpse it's a privilege to share the seas with Irish marine wildlife.

Thanks to the location of our beautiful little island, perched in the North Atlantic Ocean there appears to be no shortage of marine life to observe.

From whales to dolphins, seals, sharks and other ocean animals this page documents the most interesting accounts of marine wildlife around our shores. We're keen to receive your observations, your photos, links and youtube clips.

Boaters have a unique perspective and all those who go afloat, from inshore kayaking to offshore yacht racing that what they encounter can be of real value to specialist organisations such as the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group (IWDG) who compile a list of sightings and strandings. The IWDG knowledge base has increased over the past 21 years thanks in part at least to the observations of sailors, anglers, kayakers and boaters.

Thanks to the IWDG work we now know we share the seas with dozens of species who also call Ireland home. Here's the current list: Atlantic white-sided dolphin, beluga whale, blue whale, bottlenose dolphin, common dolphin, Cuvier's beaked whale, false killer whale, fin whale, Gervais' beaked whale, harbour porpoise, humpback whale, killer whale, minke whale, northern bottlenose whale, northern right whale, pilot whale, pygmy sperm whale, Risso's dolphin, sei whale, Sowerby's beaked whale, sperm whale, striped dolphin, True's beaked whale and white-beaked dolphin.

But as impressive as the species list is the IWDG believe there are still gaps in our knowledge. Next time you are out on the ocean waves keep a sharp look out!

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