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Russian Military Exercises Could Have "Devastating Consequences" for Marine Mammals, Minister for Heritage Malcolm Noonan Warns

26th January 2022
The Government has urged any fishing vessels planning to protest near the Russian naval vessels to avoid putting themselves at risk
The Government has urged any fishing vessels planning to protest near the Russian naval vessels to avoid putting themselves at risk Credit: courtesy Moscow Times

Minister of State for Heritage Malcolm Noonan says he is “ deeply concerned” at the news that military exercises are to be conducted by Russia within Ireland’s Exclusive Economic Area due to the impact on marine mammals.

In a statement last night, Noonan said he had written to both Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney and the Russian Ambassador to Ireland to express his concerns.

“While we do not know the nature of these exercises, we do know that underwater sounds such as active military sonar can have devastating consequences for cetaceans including some of our rarest marine mammal species, notably the deep-diving and rarely-seen Blue whale, Sperm whale and beaked whales,” Noonan said.

Minister of State for Heritage Malcolm NoonanMinister of State for Heritage Malcolm Noonan

“ It can cause significant disruption to their hearing systems and normal behaviour, and may lead to permanent or even lethal injury,” he said.

“Ireland’s marine mammals have been the focus of considerable research efforts over the last three decades and the understanding of species occurrence, abundance and distribution has improved markedly in that time,” he said.

As Afloat reported earlier, Cuvier’s beaked whales are known to inhabit the area where Russia plans a military exercise early next month

“Most recently the ObSERVE project, run jointly by my department and the Department of Environment, Climate and Communications, mapped cetaceans through aerial and ship-based surveys over a three year period and across an extensive area of our off-shore waters,” he said.

“The second phase of this project – ObSERVE 2 – is currently ongoing,” Noonan said.

Russia's Ambassador to Ireland Yury Filatov said that controversy around the exercise was "hugely overblown".

He told a press conference on Monday that the planned exercises by Russian naval vessels off the southwest Irish coast were "not in any way a threat to Ireland or anybody else" and that no harm was intended by it.

Filatov said three or four ships would be involved, but he did not know if missiles or submarines would be used.

60 fishing vessels

Up to 60 fishing vessels affiliated to the Irish South and West Fish Producers’ Organisation (IS&WFPO) have pledged to peacefully disrupt the exercises due to the threats to marine life and biodiversity.

IS&WFPO chief executive Patrick Murphy told RTÉ Radio 1’s Morning Ireland that there were currently "half a billion tonnes" of blue whiting in the area that move up along the coastline, representing "a one million tonne fishery".

"This is a very important ground where fish come to spawn... and we don't know what's going on out here.

"We should be entitled to go fishing there, and if we're fishing there then these boats, these warships, shouldn't be having war games."

Murphy said an issue of "real concern" was that their fishing gear at the back of their boats could get tangled with a submarine.

In a comment to RTÉ, the Russian Embassy said it would be “reckless” for the fishing organisation to send vessels to the area within the exercise.

Head of German navy resigns

Earlier this week, the head of the German navy resigned after attracting criticism at home and abroad for saying that Ukraine would never regain the Crimean Peninsula, which was annexed by Russia in 2014.

Speaking at an event in New Delhi, India, on Friday, Vice Admiral Kay-Achim Schoenbach also said it was important to have Russia on side against China, and suggested that Russian President Vladimir Putin deserved “respect”.

“Is Russia really interested in having a tiny strip of Ukraine’s soil? No,” he said, in remarks which were recorded on video.

“Or to integrate it in the country? No, this is nonsense. Putin is probably putting pressure because he knows he can do it and he knows that it splits the European Union,” Schoenbach said.

“What he (Putin) really wants is respect. And my God, giving someone respect is low cost, even no cost … It is easy to give him the respect he really demands – and probably also deserves,” he added, calling Russia an old and important country.

Published in Marine Wildlife
Lorna Siggins

About The Author

Lorna Siggins

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Lorna Siggins is a print and radio reporter, and a former Irish Times western correspondent. She is the author of Everest Callling (1994) on the first Irish Everest expedition; Mayday! Mayday! (2004) on Irish helicopter search and rescue; and Once Upon a Time in the West: the Corrib gas controversy (2010).

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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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