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IWDG Hails ‘Strong Links With Iceland’ After Historic Humpback Survey

12th July 2018
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The Celtic Mist spent four weeks surveying Iceland’s coast The Celtic Mist spent four weeks surveying Iceland’s coast Photo: Wouter Jan Strietman

#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.”

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