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Displaying items by tag: fin whales

The Irish Whale and Dolphin Group has conformed the first validated sighting of a fin whale off Co Donegal.

Liz Morrow captured images of the solo large whale in Donegal Bay off Slieve League earlier this month, estimating it to be around 18 metres in length.

Fin whales are a common occurrence in Ireland’s South West and the Celtic Sea, but have never before been spotted in the inshore waters of the colder North West.

However, with the later sighting of a humpback whale breaching off Malin Beg, it could be a sign that larger marine wildlife are exploring new territory north of Sligo.

“Any large whales that simply look too large to be a minke or humpback and produce a powerful columnar ‘blow’ on surfacing, should be considered as likely candidates,” the IWDG suggests.

“They will often be accompanied by common dolphins who hunt the same sprat and herring shoals and they never lift their tails before diving.”

Suspected fin whales are best approached from the right side and photographed at the head and rostrum “which should reveal the diagnostic lower white right jaw”.

Published in Marine Wildlife
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#MarineWildlife - Residents on Arranmore off the Donegal coast were surprised to find a rare whale carcass washed up on their island over the weekend.

According to BBC News, the 20-metre cetacean is believed to be a fin whale, an endangered species not normally spotted so close to Irish shores.

Though photo opportunities may be tempting, the public has been urged to stay away from the carcass for health and safety reasons.

Fin whales are sometimes spotted offshore, says Dave Wall of the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group (IWDG), who added that this whale was likely dead for some time before its carcass beached.

It’s not known what causes the fin whale’s death. But marine debris — especially microbeads from bathroom products – is a growing threat to all whales, dolphins and porpoise in Irish waters, as the IWDG recently reported.

Citing a new study that found marine debris (such as plastic bags and fish hooks) in the digestive tracts of 8.5% of cetaceans examined, the IWDG highlights that micro-plastics were present in the guts of every animal in the study.

“While larger marine debris has been shown to cause impaction of the gut and other complications which can lead to death, the impact of micro-plastic contamination is not known,” says the group.

“It is thought it can act as a vehicle for persistent pollutants, which adhere to the large surface area resulting in a potential increase in contaminant burdens in marine mammals.”

The IWDG has more on the study HERE.

Published in Marine Wildlife
Tagged under

#MarineWildlife - Marine scientists have been puzzled by the recent beaching of a whale rarely seen off the east coast of England.

According to the Guardian, the carcass of a 12m fin whale washed up at Holkham in Norfolk last Thursday afternoon (20 October), far from its usual waters between Britain and Ireland.

“You never get them in the North Sea, so what it was doing there, we have no idea at the moment,” biologist Dr Ben Garrod told the newspaper.

It’s not yet known what causes the marine giant’s death, though collision with a vessel in the North Sea has been mooted as one possibility, as the Eastern Daily Press reports.

Published in Marine Wildlife

#MarineWildlife - Whale sightings are on the increase in the South East this week as the season tapers off, according to the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group (IWDG).

"As large whales don't keep to our calendar year, this annual south east flurry of large whale sightings represents the tail-end our our large whale season," says the IWDG's sightings officer Pádraig Whooley.

"And what a season it has been, especially for the humpback whale, which have enjoyed a record year both in terms of frequency of sightings since they first appeared in early May off the Slea Head Peninsula."

The latest spots were made both on land – by Andrew Malcolm and Ann Trimble from Ardmore Co in Waterford at the weekend – and on a whale-watching trip with Martin Colfer's South Coast Charter Angling, recording a humpback whale and more than five fin whales between them.

And there might still be time to head down to the Sunny South East to catch a glimpse of these ocean giants before they depart for the spring.

Published in Marine Wildlife

#MarineWildlife - The Irish Whale and Dolphin Group (IWDG) has proposed a restriction of seismic survey activity on the slopes of the Irish continental shelf and the Porcupine Seablight.

The IWDG says its move "stems from an increasing body of evidence which indicates that the Irish Shelf Slopes and Porcupine Seablight are an important migration route and opportunistic foraging area for blue whales and fin whales from August to March each year.

"Humpback whales are also known to migrate along a similar route in the winter and early spring," it added in a statement.

The cetacean conservation charity as expressed concern at what it perceives as "a large increase in seismic survey activity in the Porpcupine Seablight during the main migration period and recent evidence of disturbance to these migrating whales by seismic surveys."

As a result, the IWDG has proposed to the Petroleum Affairs Division of the Department of Natural Resources that seismic surveys – such as that scheduled to be conducted in the Porcupine Basin this September – be "restricted to the months March to August, outside of the migration period, in order to minimise disturbance to these highly endangered whale species."

According to the group "similar measures" have been successful in other parts of the world, such as off South Africa, where whales "seasonally occur in large numbers".

The IWDG's proposal is available as a PDF to download HERE.

Published in Marine Wildlife

#MarineWildlife - Late summer brings fin whales flocking to West Cork in big numbers, with the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group estimating at least 20 of the second-largest ocean species sighted between Seven Heads and Galley Head.

Indeed, as IWDG sightings officer Padraig Whooley writes, the gathering "is certainly the largest validated aggregation of this species so far this year" and comes some months ahead of the usual peak from October to December.

Recommended spots for watching these fin whale visitors - though you will need some decent binoculars to get the best views - are the aforementioned Galley Head and Seven Heads as eel as Cloghna Head, Dunworley and Sandscove.

Kerry has its own share of whale visitors, with a "lovely run" of humpbacks in recent weeks, while East Coast residents aren't left out, either, with a rare sighting of a minke whale in the Irish Sea some 20km off Bray Head over a week ago.

In other cetacean news, West Cork has become home to a new solitary dolphin in the form of Clet, a bottlenose who's been spotted in Glandore, Baltimore and Schull after time from Devon, Cornwall, South Wales and originally France.

Yet as IWDG welfare officer Paul Kiernan warns, Clet might appear cute but he's very much a wild animal, with reports claiming a swimmer off Sherkin Island was "aggressively pushed underwater by the dolphin".

Such stories, Kiernan writes, point "to the need for people to exercise common sense and extreme caution in how best to enjoy an interaction with this very large, apex predator."

He adds: "Bottlenose dolphins are not cute and cuddly, they are not our 'friends' and nor do they benefit in any meaningful or long term way from interacting with humans."

Published in Marine Wildlife

#MarineWildlife - The Irish Whale and Dolphin Group is reporting a "high volume of sightings" of minke whales - plus the odd fin whale - off the coasts of West Cork and Kerry as this week's heatwave continues to bask the country.

The first reports from the early part of the week showed a big increase of sightings and activity in the southwest region - but also off Mullaghmore, the popular surfing spot in Co Sligo, where as many as three minkes were spotted last weekend, and as far afield as Belfast Lough where several minke whales were photographed.

As the week progressed, the first confirmed sighting of a fin whale came in from Slea Head in Co Kerry in waters teeming with six minke whales and around 150 common dolphins.

And a whale watch trip of West Cork came into range of an amazing 12 minke whales, including a number of juveniles who seemed to make a game of swimming around the watchers' vessel.

The latest reports came in on Thursday from Baltimore and Clougher Head, which indicate that fin whales may be arriving here in big numbers. Here's hoping a few humpbacks will follow in their wake!

Published in Marine Wildlife

#MarineWildlife - Here's a little something cheerful to brighten up this chilly, snowy Monday morning: some video footage from YouTube shot by Irish Whale and Dolphin Group (IWDG) member Karl Grabe of the first whales to visit Ireland's shores in 2013.

As previously reported on Afloat.ie, the first sightings were made last week on the maiden member whale-watching trip on board the IWDG's new marine wildlife research vessel Celtic Mist off the coast of Wexford.

In addition to these fin whales, the group also made the acquaintance of a group of frolicking dolphins from the 'superpod' spotted in the Irish Sea recently, as you can see from the clip below:

Published in Marine Wildlife

#MarineWildlife - The whale watching season is well under way off the coast of Wexford, as the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group (IWDG) reported its first sightings of 2013 this week.

Just an hour into the maiden cetacean spotting voyage of the IWDG's new research vessel Celtic Mist at the weekend, members of the group were treated to the sight of fin whales and minke whales feeding south of Hook Head - not to mention some of the 'superpod' of dolphins seen last week in the Irish Sea.

And as World Irish reports, local wildlife ranger Tony Murray spotted the first humpback whale of the year in the same area.

Murray suggested that "a large herring haul going on in the southeast at the moment" is the main attraction for the ocean giants and their smaller, more plentiful companions.

The IWDG's Facebook page has a photo gallery containing some stunning snapshots of the day's excursion HERE.

Published in Marine Wildlife

#MarineWildlife - The Irish Whale and Dolphin Group (IWDG) reports of another "frenzy of activity" while on a whale research cruise off West Cork this week.

The 'members only' trip on Wednesday 5 December took in the hotspot west of Reen Pier in Union Hall "where humpback and fin whales have enthralled hundreds of whale watchers and wildlife enthusiasts alike in recent weeks," according to IWDG sightings co-ordinator Pádraig Whooley.

When it soon became clear that most of the whales had left the area, the team headed east to return an ill member to shore.

"This turn of events proved almost karmic," says Whooley, "as not long after dropping our colleague back to Reen Pier, we started getting text messages from IWDG observers Tim Feen and Chris O'Sullivan of both humpback and fin whales well to the east on the Clonakilty Bay side of Galley Head."

Racing against the fading afternoon light, the boat made it to the scene to witness the blows first of fin whales, then humpbacks - at least five of the latter and seven of the former - and confirming them as the giants previously seen between the Kedge and Stags.

The team collected biopsy samples from most of the relaxed pod, including one that is suspected to be a female humpback with a calf.

"Since then, the weather has been very poor," says Whooley, "but there are still sufficient reports coming into IWDG to suggest to us that the large whale activity is slowly pushing east."

The IWDG is also collaborating with the BBC's WinterWatch programme next week, which is hoping to follow up on last year's AutumnWatch special on fin whales from East Cork and Waterford by filming humpback whales in West Cork.

Members of the public or whale-watchers are encouraged to report any sightings they might witness over the weekend to the IWDG by using the 'Report a sighting' link on the home page at iwdg.ie.

Published in Marine Wildlife
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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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