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Displaying items by tag: Cuvier's Beaked Whales

The UK’s Royal Navy has admitted that it was conducting operations in an area linked to the mass stranding of deep-diving whales in Ireland and Scotland three years ago, according to a report in The Times.

Record numbers of beaked whales stranded along Ireland’s North West between Galway and Donegal throughout August 2018, with a similar number found in Scotland. Records were also made in Iceland and the Faroe Islands.

The matter became the focus of a joint investigation by the Department of Foreign Affairs and UK authorities, which later traced the whales’ origin to the Porcupine Bank some 200km off the West Coast.

Use of sonar has been blamed by some experts for previous strandings of deep-diving species like the Cuvier’s beaked whale.

While the Royal Navy is known to use sonar in its operations, unlike Ireland’s Naval Service, it issued a statement in August 2018 saying that there is “no evidence that the deaths of these marine mammals have been attributed to any Royal Navy sonar operations, trials or exercises”.

The Times has more on the story HERE. (Subscription required.)

Published in Marine Wildlife

Visitors to a beach recently named among the 10 best in Ireland were shocked to discover the remains of three whales washed up on the strand, as the Irish Examiner reports.

The three carcasses found on Trá Mór in Donegal at the weekend are understood to be Cuvier’s beaked whales, a deep-ocean marine wildlife species that is rarely spotted in the wild and which was at the centre of a concerning mass stranding event two-and-a-half years ago.

Trá Mór is included, along with Ballymastocker Bay on the nearby Fanad Peninsula, in Lonely Planet’s list of the 10 best beaches in Ireland, as previously reported on Afloat.ie.

Published in Marine Wildlife

A seal rarely sighted in Irish waters was among the first sightings of the New Year by eagle-eyed supporters of the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group (IWDG).

The hooded seal was spotted by Helen Tilson of Schull Sea Safari on the mudflats at Toormore Bay in West Cork on New Year’s Day, and represents only the fourth or fifth Irish record for the Arctic marine wildlife species.

Video recorded by Tilson of the animal “removed any doubt” it was a a hooded seal “as it shows the nasal sac starting to balloon as she approached it, and it made a growling roar, the likes of which I’ve never heard from one of our grey seal bulls”, according to IWDG sightings officer Pádraig Whooley.

It’s believed this particular seal is a sub-adult male “in rather thin condition”, which is to be expected as it is so far south of its usual range.

Cuvier’s beaked whale carcass in Clonakilty Bay on 21 December (Photo: Grace Keane O’Connor)Cuvier’s beaked whale carcass in Clonakilty Bay on 21 December | Photo: Grace Keane O’Connor

Meanwhile, reports of four stranded Cuvier’s beaked whale carcasses within 12 days and 70km of each other in December have prompted fears of a new mass stranding event for the deep water species.

The IWDG’s Mick O’Connell said all four were recorded along the Cork coast, beginning in Tragumna (16 December) and followed by Castlepoint in Roaringwater Bay (17 Dec), Lislevane in Clonakilty (21 Dec) and offshore at Galley Head (27 Dec).

“For the third time in five years we are looking at an unusual mass stranding of Cuvier’s beaked whales on the Irish coast, likely caused by a single event at sea,” he said.

But the situation as yet defies explanation. “Without specialised post-mortem of very freshly dead animals … we can’t even establish cause of death,” O’Donnell added.

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 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 - The Irish Whale and Dolphin Group (IWDG) has issued a joint statement with fellow marine wildlife conservation groups on what's been labelled as "an unusual mortality event" involving Cuvier's beaked whales in Scotland and Ireland.

Last month, scientists in Scotland said they were baffled by the "unusually large number" of strandings of the deep-water whale species, rarely seen because they feed so far below the surface.

More recently, the Sunday World reported on further strandings on beaches around Ireland – leading some experts to point the finger at the suspected use of sonar in the British navy's alleged search for a rogue Russian submarine at the end of last year.

The joint statement says there are "many case studies from the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans and Mediterranean Sea where mass strandings of this species were linked to exercised using military sonar.

"Furthermore, a controlled exposure experiment has demonstrated prolonged reactions by some beaked whale species to navy sonar."

However, only anecdotal evidence of any naval sonar activity in the affected areas exists, and the Naval Service has told The Irish Times that it had no knowledge of any such activity over that period.

Similarly, the Department of Energy said no seismic surveys had been conducted offshore since October, and that any such surveys – a significant source of underwater noise that can be harmful to cetaceans – must comply with National Parks and Wildlife Service Guidelines.

The Irish Times has more on the story HERE.

Published in Marine Wildlife

#MarineWildlife - Could the recent mass strandings of Cuvier's beaked whales in British and Irish waters be connected with the recent real-life 'Hunt for Red October'?

Last month scientists in Scotland were baffled by an "unusually large number" of strandings of the deep-water whale species, rarely seen because they feed so far below the surface.

And as the Sunday World reports, even more have been found washed up on beaches around Ireland since then, amid an alarmingly high rate of cetacean strandings for the start of this year that includes the killer whale beached in Waterford last week.

While the recent severe weather systems from the Atlantic have been suggested as a possible cause, another culprit might be the British navy's search for a rogue Russian submarine at the end of last year.

Mick O’Connell of the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group (IWDG) says that loud sonar such as that used to detect submarines can distress deep-diving whales into surfacing too fast and getting 'the bends'.

It's believed that all eight of the beaked whales washed up in Ireland died in the same incident.

Though their actual cause of death cannot be determined, decompression sickness has been suggested as reason for the earlier Scottish whale deaths.

The Sunday World has more on the story HERE.

Published in Marine Wildlife

#MarineWildlife - An "unusually large number" of Cuvier’s beaked whale strandings in western Scotland in recent weeks has baffled marine scientists, as The Scotsman reports.

Five of the rarely seen species were found washed up on Scotland's west coast in late December, a five-fold rise on the annual average.

And as Dr Conor Ryan of the Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust states, there are "no obvious clues as to what is causing such an obvious increase in strandings."

Recent stormy conditions may be a factor, he said, but alone they don't explain "why we are finding just one deep-diving species in such high numbers."

According to BBC Earth, Cuvier's beaked whales are the deepest diving of any large marine wildlife, plunging almost 3km into the depths in search of food, thanks to a unique physiology that allows them to withstand the crushing pressures and lack of oxygen.

It's possible that the whales may have succumbed to 'the bends' – which killed 14 beaked whales that washed up in the Canaries in 2002 – but the poor condition of the carcasses has ruled out any clues that a postmortem might provide.

The Scotsman has more on the story HERE.

Published in Marine Wildlife

Ireland's Offshore Renewable Energy

Because of Ireland's location at the Atlantic edge of the EU, it has more offshore energy potential than most other countries in Europe. The conditions are suitable for the development of the full range of current offshore renewable energy technologies.

Offshore Renewable Energy FAQs

Offshore renewable energy draws on the natural energy provided by wind, wave and tide to convert it into electricity for industry and domestic consumption.

Offshore wind is the most advanced technology, using fixed wind turbines in coastal areas, while floating wind is a developing technology more suited to deeper water. In 2018, offshore wind provided a tiny fraction of global electricity supply, but it is set to expand strongly in the coming decades into a USD 1 trillion business, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA). It says that turbines are growing in size and in power capacity, which in turn is "delivering major performance and cost improvements for offshore wind farms".

The global offshore wind market grew nearly 30% per year between 2010 and 2018, according to the IEA, due to rapid technology improvements, It calculated that about 150 new offshore wind projects are in active development around the world. Europe in particular has fostered the technology's development, led by Britain, Germany and Denmark, but China added more capacity than any other country in 2018.

A report for the Irish Wind Energy Assocation (IWEA) by the Carbon Trust – a British government-backed limited company established to accelerate Britain's move to a low carbon economy - says there are currently 14 fixed-bottom wind energy projects, four floating wind projects and one project that has yet to choose a technology at some stage of development in Irish waters. Some of these projects are aiming to build before 2030 to contribute to the 5GW target set by the Irish government, and others are expected to build after 2030. These projects have to secure planning permission, obtain a grid connection and also be successful in a competitive auction in the Renewable Electricity Support Scheme (RESS).

The electricity generated by each turbine is collected by an offshore electricity substation located within the wind farm. Seabed cables connect the offshore substation to an onshore substation on the coast. These cables transport the electricity to land from where it will be used to power homes, farms and businesses around Ireland. The offshore developer works with EirGrid, which operates the national grid, to identify how best to do this and where exactly on the grid the project should connect.

The new Marine Planning and Development Management Bill will create a new streamlined system for planning permission for activity or infrastructure in Irish waters or on the seabed, including offshore wind farms. It is due to be published before the end of 2020 and enacted in 2021.

There are a number of companies aiming to develop offshore wind energy off the Irish coast and some of the larger ones would be ESB, SSE Renewables, Energia, Statkraft and RWE.

There are a number of companies aiming to develop offshore wind energy off the Irish coast and some of the larger ones would be ESB, SSE Renewables, Energia, Statkraft and RWE. Is there scope for community involvement in offshore wind? The IWEA says that from the early stages of a project, the wind farm developer "should be engaging with the local community to inform them about the project, answer their questions and listen to their concerns". It says this provides the community with "the opportunity to work with the developer to help shape the final layout and design of the project". Listening to fishing industry concerns, and how fishermen may be affected by survey works, construction and eventual operation of a project is "of particular concern to developers", the IWEA says. It says there will also be a community benefit fund put in place for each project. It says the final details of this will be addressed in the design of the RESS (see below) for offshore wind but it has the potential to be "tens of millions of euro over the 15 years of the RESS contract". The Government is also considering the possibility that communities will be enabled to invest in offshore wind farms though there is "no clarity yet on how this would work", the IWEA says.

Based on current plans, it would amount to around 12 GW of offshore wind energy. However, the IWEA points out that is unlikely that all of the projects planned will be completed. The industry says there is even more significant potential for floating offshore wind off Ireland's west coast and the Programme for Government contains a commitment to develop a long-term plan for at least 30 GW of floating offshore wind in our deeper waters.

There are many different models of turbines. The larger a turbine, the more efficient it is in producing electricity at a good price. In choosing a turbine model the developer will be conscious of this ,but also has to be aware the impact of the turbine on the environment, marine life, biodiversity and visual impact. As a broad rule an offshore wind turbine will have a tip-height of between 165m and 215m tall. However, turbine technology is evolving at a rapid rate with larger more efficient turbines anticipated on the market in the coming years.

 

The Renewable Electricity Support Scheme is designed to support the development of renewable energy projects in Ireland. Under the scheme wind farms and solar farms compete against each other in an auction with the projects which offer power at the lowest price awarded contracts. These contracts provide them with a guaranteed price for their power for 15 years. If they obtain a better price for their electricity on the wholesale market they must return the difference to the consumer.

Yes. The first auction for offshore renewable energy projects is expected to take place in late 2021.

Cost is one difference, and technology is another. Floating wind farm technology is relatively new, but allows use of deeper water. Ireland's 50-metre contour line is the limit for traditional bottom-fixed wind farms, and it is also very close to population centres, which makes visibility of large turbines an issue - hence the attraction of floating structures Do offshore wind farms pose a navigational hazard to shipping? Inshore fishermen do have valid concerns. One of the first steps in identifying a site as a potential location for an offshore wind farm is to identify and assess the level of existing marine activity in the area and this particularly includes shipping. The National Marine Planning Framework aims to create, for the first time, a plan to balance the various kinds of offshore activity with the protection of the Irish marine environment. This is expected to be published before the end of 2020, and will set out clearly where is suitable for offshore renewable energy development and where it is not - due, for example, to shipping movements and safe navigation.

YEnvironmental organisations are concerned about the impact of turbines on bird populations, particularly migrating birds. A Danish scientific study published in 2019 found evidence that larger birds were tending to avoid turbine blades, but said it didn't have sufficient evidence for smaller birds – and cautioned that the cumulative effect of farms could still have an impact on bird movements. A full environmental impact assessment has to be carried out before a developer can apply for planning permission to develop an offshore wind farm. This would include desk-based studies as well as extensive surveys of the population and movements of birds and marine mammals, as well as fish and seabed habitats. If a potential environmental impact is identified the developer must, as part of the planning application, show how the project will be designed in such a way as to avoid the impact or to mitigate against it.

A typical 500 MW offshore wind farm would require an operations and maintenance base which would be on the nearby coast. Such a project would generally create between 80-100 fulltime jobs, according to the IWEA. There would also be a substantial increase to in-direct employment and associated socio-economic benefit to the surrounding area where the operation and maintenance hub is located.

The recent Carbon Trust report for the IWEA, entitled Harnessing our potential, identified significant skills shortages for offshore wind in Ireland across the areas of engineering financial services and logistics. The IWEA says that as Ireland is a relatively new entrant to the offshore wind market, there are "opportunities to develop and implement strategies to address the skills shortages for delivering offshore wind and for Ireland to be a net exporter of human capital and skills to the highly competitive global offshore wind supply chain". Offshore wind requires a diverse workforce with jobs in both transferable (for example from the oil and gas sector) and specialist disciplines across apprenticeships and higher education. IWEA have a training network called the Green Tech Skillnet that facilitates training and networking opportunities in the renewable energy sector.

It is expected that developing the 3.5 GW of offshore wind energy identified in the Government's Climate Action Plan would create around 2,500 jobs in construction and development and around 700 permanent operations and maintenance jobs. The Programme for Government published in 2020 has an enhanced target of 5 GW of offshore wind which would create even more employment. The industry says that in the initial stages, the development of offshore wind energy would create employment in conducting environmental surveys, community engagement and development applications for planning. As a site moves to construction, people with backgrounds in various types of engineering, marine construction and marine transport would be recruited. Once the site is up and running , a project requires a team of turbine technicians, engineers and administrators to ensure the wind farm is fully and properly maintained, as well as crew for the crew transfer vessels transporting workers from shore to the turbines.

The IEA says that today's offshore wind market "doesn't even come close to tapping the full potential – with high-quality resources available in most major markets". It estimates that offshore wind has the potential to generate more than 420 000 Terawatt hours per year (TWh/yr) worldwide – as in more than 18 times the current global electricity demand. One Terawatt is 114 megawatts, and to put it in context, Scotland it has a population a little over 5 million and requires 25 TWh/yr of electrical energy.

Not as advanced as wind, with anchoring a big challenge – given that the most effective wave energy has to be in the most energetic locations, such as the Irish west coast. Britain, Ireland and Portugal are regarded as most advanced in developing wave energy technology. The prize is significant, the industry says, as there are forecasts that varying between 4000TWh/yr to 29500TWh/yr. Europe consumes around 3000TWh/year.

The industry has two main umbrella organisations – the Irish Wind Energy Association, which represents both onshore and offshore wind, and the Marine Renewables Industry Association, which focuses on all types of renewable in the marine environment.

©Afloat 2020

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