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Displaying items by tag: killer whales

A surfer from Northern Ireland got more than he bargained for when he was chased by a pod of killer whales off Donegal last week.

As the News Letter reports, Derry man Ryan Vail was catching waves off Culdaff on the Inishowen Peninsula last Friday (11 September) when he found himself surrounded by the orca pod consisting of two adults and three juveniles.

Orcas are a rare sight in Irish inshore waters, but the marine wildlife are no strangers to Donegal.

A pod resident in western Scotland has been spotted in Lough Swilly before, and more recently in Strangford Lough, but it has not calved in many years — suggesting these visitors may come from elsewhere.

“I’m well used to the water and have seen basking sharks, dolphins and porpoises, so I knew it definitely wasn’t one of them,” Ryan said.

“I knew what I was looking at, so I also knew I shouldn’t be this close! So, there was a wee bit of panic.”

And that panic only grew when one of the smaller orcas — “the size of a Transit van” — made an aggressive dash for Ryan on his board.

The News Letter has more on the story HERE.

Published in Marine Wildlife
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A pod of orcas or killer whales caused great excitement in Strangford Lough, County Down yesterday. As reported by BBC News NI, local skipper Richard Connor from Causeway Boats said that it may be unusual but not unheard of. It was the third time he had seen them in 22 years of skippering.

Biologist Suzanne Beck from the Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute said the group that was in the lough are part of the West Coast community and may be seen a few times a year. "Usually they might travel on round the coast and the guys in the Hebrides might get a sighting and later they may travel right round Ireland, so you do hear of them every so often. They're just doing this circuit around us the whole time and it's only when they come close to the coast that we're getting these lucky sightings” They could have come in to chase a seal or been interested in different noises, but the concern was that they may keep travelling up through the Lough.

According to the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group NI they were initially reported yesterday afternoon several miles off Ardglass on the County Down coast before they pushed north into Strangford Narrows. “We can confirm from the presence of the bull known as "John Coe" that they are from the Scottish West Coast Community Group, which today has a core group of just seven or eight remaining individuals. They are recorded most years on a few occasions in Irish waters and this is the eighth time this apex predator has been recorded along the Co. Down coast since 2001. This is however not the first time killer whales have entered Strangford Narrows as a pod of four were photographed on Regatta Day off Portaferry on Aug. 18th 1962”. It was an exciting sight for children.

The McCarthy family got wind it was happening from the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group NI's Facebook page and decided to take a quick detour. “When we arrived, they were on the turn back and there were three boats near them”, Mr McCarthy said. I was concerned that it could turn into an awkward situation if they didn't find their way out through the Narrows but they seemed to make their way back fairly comfortably". He said the three boats out with them "did a good job of holding back". "It was a stunning night and what a treat," he added.

Published in Marine Wildlife

Flame retardants, pesticides and other pollutants are among the toxic ingredients found in four killer whales stranded on the Irish coastline, according to a new study writes Lorna Siggins

Blubber samples analysed by scientists from Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology (GMIT) and the Marine Institute showed that the marine mammals concentrate persistent pollutants to “very high levels”.

The samples were taken from three killer whales stranded in Galway, Mayo and Waterford between 2010 and 2017 - one of which was pregnant with a near term foetus that was also sampled.

The study showed bio-accumulation of 16 polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), seven brominated flame retardants and 19 organochlorine pesticides, according to results published in the Marine Pollution Bulletin.

Collecting blubber sample from killer whale for contaminant analysisCollecting blubber sample from killer whale for contaminant analysis

Concentrations of PCBs in one killer whale, stranded at Doohoma, Co Mayo, exceeded the suggested toxicity threshold of 17mg/kg, the authors state.

GMIT PhD student and senior author Moira Schlingermann noted that “although these concentrations are high, these results are relatively low from a global perspective, particularly in comparison to the highly contaminated transient killer whales from coasts along the north-east Pacific Ocean”.

“These contaminants are known as legacy pollutants as they were produced decades ago but still persist in our marine waters,” she said.

“ We are also interested in “emerging” pollutants, new chemicals that have only recently been designed and released into our environment and for which we do not know their effects,”she said.

“Persistent pollutants continue to be of major concern for marine apex predators such as killer whales and it is vital that they are continually monitored and reported in order to add to the knowledge of pollutants across the entire range of this species,” she said.

Dr Philip White of GMIT supervised much of the work with Dr Brendan McHugh from the Marine Institute and it was conducted at the institute laboratories in Oranmore, Co Galway.

“We have to do everything we can to prevent these substances from entering the marine environment"

Dr Simon Berrow, co-supervisor at GMIT and Irish Whale and Dolphin Group chief executive had warned of the “dire future” facing killer whales last year.

“The build-up of persistent pollutants and their effects on these animals reproduction are undoubtedly the biggest long term threat they and species of dolphin and porpoise face in our oceans,” Dr Berrow said.

“We have to do everything we can to prevent these substances from entering the marine environment and the food chain, because once in it, they will be almost impossible to remove,” he said.

This work was conducted under a GMIT RISE studentship, which was part-funded by the IWDG.

For access to the publication in the Marine Pollution Bulletin visit:

Published in Marine Wildlife
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#MarineWildlife - Video posted on social media over the weekend of two killer whales spotted off the Co Dublin coast has gone viral.

Trawlerman James Mac Cluskey used his phone to record a few seconds’ glimpse of the pair of male orcas, which came close to his boat some 8km off Rockabill on Saturday afternoon (17 November).

According to the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group (IWDG), it’s the second sighting of the largest species in the dolphin family off the East Coast in recent weeks, with another fisherman reporting an encounter some 22km off Skerries on 30 October.

And it’s believed the duo may be part of the Scottish West Coast Community Group, a unique orca pod long under threat of extinction owning to not having produced any calves for years.

Earlier this year, whales from this group were identified feeding off the Blasket Islands in Co Kerry, showing just how far their range extends.

Published in Marine Wildlife
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#MarineWildlife - The RV Celtic Voyager departed the Port of Cork yesterday (Wednesday 24 October) for ‘Operation Orca’, a 12-day survey of an offshore killer whale community associated with the Northeast Atlantic mackerel fishery.

A team of marine scientists from University College Cork is on board the research vessel that’s headed to waters east of the Orkneys, to study the orcas that feed on mackerel between October and February each year.

“This is the first time a dedicated research vessel will be heading up to study these killer whales and we are hopeful to come back with a lot of data,” said PhD researcher and chief scientist Róisín Pinfield in her introductory blog for the survey.

“We will have cameras, GoPros, drones, underwater hydrophones collecting acoustic data so we can hear the killer whales and a RIB so we can get in close if weather conditions allow. Time to pray to the weather gods to keep the storms away!”

The [email protected] blog will be regularly updated by the Celtic Voyager team once they reach the fishing grounds and begin their survey, which runs till Sunday 4 November.

Published in Marine Wildlife

The prognosis for killer whales in Europe is dire, according to the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group.

There was great excitement and media interest in the sighting of killer whales off West Kerry over a month ago. The IWDG has identified them as what is known as the Scottish West Coast Community of killer whales. It has recorded them previously in Irish waters, from County Antrim, to Cork and from Co Kerry to Mayo.

But that group of whales may soon become extinct and that is a warning over the way in which marine waters are being abused as a sink for human waste. The warning has been given by the Chief Scientific Officer of the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group, Dr.Simon Berrow, speaking to Tom MacSweeney on his THIS ISLAND NATION radio programme. Listen to the clip below.

Published in Tom MacSweeney
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#MarineWildlife - Two killer whales spotted feeding off the Blasket Islands earlier this week have been identified as members of a unique pod from Scotland.

“Killer whale sightings in any Irish waters are rare events, and they seem to be getting rarer,” said Pádraig Wholley of the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group, whose member Nick Massett photographed the orcas in Dingle Bay on Monday 5 March.

Massett identified one of the two cetaceans immediately as John Coe, and its partner as another adult male, Aquarius. RTÉ News says the orcas were likely hunting seals in the area.

Both are members of the genetically distinctive Scottish West Coast Community Group, which commonly feeds in the Hebridean Islands but has previously been found as far as Lough Swilly and Scotland’s east coast, likely in search of food.

“Colleagues from the Hebridean Whale & Dolphin Trust can confirm that John Coe was seen exactly seven days [previously] in Scottish waters … which tells us a lot about the movements of this highly mobile apex predator,” said Wholley.

The Scottish West Coast Community Group has been feared to be on the ‘brink of extinction’ for many years. In January 2016 the pod lost a female member, Lulu, due to what was at first thought to be entanglement with fishing gear but was later blamed on PCB pollution.

Published in Marine Wildlife

#MarineWildlife - Once was exciting enough — but a Kerry trawler had landed a second giant squid in as many months, as RTÉ News reports.

Local fisherman Pete Flannery landed what was the first giant squid recorded in Irish waters for 22 years in mid May, as previously reported on Afloat.ie.

But amazingly, he had repeated the feat this month while trawling in the same area, on the Porcupine Bank west of Dingle.

Before this year, only five of the enormous cephalopods had been found in Irish waters since records began in 1673.

What’s more, two of those squid were landed by Flannery’s own father Michael back in 1995.

“I'll probably have to catch a third now so that I can have bragging rights,” Flannery told RTÉ News, which has more on the story HERE.

Elsewhere, a Galway man recorded video of a killer whale carcass washed up on the shore near Roundstone in Connemara.

Independent.ie reports that the orca sighting was confirmed by the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group, whose Mick O’Connell said the species is “neither common nor very rare [but] you wouldn’t see then very often.”

Ireland’s North Coast is a regular haunt for an “evolutionary significant” pod of killer whales that has been under threat for years due to its lack of young.

Published in Marine Wildlife

#MarineWildlife - "High pollution levels" could be to blame for the failure of Ireland's only resident killer whale pod to produce any calves.

As reported two years ago on Afloat.ie, the well-known orca pod often seen between Scotland and Ireland has been judged to be on the 'brink of extinction', with its conservation status described as "critical".

Since then the pod's number has dwindled from nine adults to just seven, with no juveniles recorded in the 30 years the so-called Scottish West Coast Community has been monitored by researchers.

One reason for that, posits Dr Simon Berrow of the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group (IWDG), could be "high pollution levels" in the food chain which may have rendered them infertile.

“If you’re moving all around Europe and living a long time, you get a lot of contaminants from fish over time,” he told the Irish Mirror.

That's a theory backed up by evidence of pollutants detected in whale carcasses beached around Ireland in recent years.

Far from the ferocious beasts of horror tales, Ireland's killer whales are considered among the gentle giants in the marine wildlife world - with one recently the recipient of a shark bite on his tail fluke.

Marine scientists have long been interested in the group for their genetic distinctness from other orcas in the north Atlantic, bearing closer relation to their Antarctic cousins.

Published in Marine Wildlife

#MarineWildlife - Six weeks after the first sighting of basking sharks this year off West Cork comes news that a pair of killer whales have been seen near Baltimore.

The Southern Star reports on the rare sight for the area of these cetaceans with a fearsome reputation, but who have never been known to kill a human in the wild.

It's believed that the orca duo may be part of a bigger pod that was feeding off West Cork at the time.

And they seem to be happy finding their own food, unlike their counterparts in the Southern Ocean who have taken to nabbing fishermen's catches.

According to the Guardian, killer whales off the Crozet Islands between Africa and Antarctica have learned to grab Patagonian tooth fish off longlines since a fishery was established there some 20 years ago.

Now scientists say they've found a link between this near constant supply of food and the orcas' reproductive rates. In other words, more fish means more, and healthier, killer whale calves.

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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