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Displaying items by tag: orca

Portuguese-based cruising enthusiast John Duggan of Cascais and originally Malahide has been monitoring the continuing situation with orca attacks on the rudders of cruising boats off the Iberian coast, and has posted this update today:

"Anyone with a boat in the Atlantic waters of Spain and Portugal will be aware of a recent spate of damage done by orcas (killer whales) to the rudder and steering gear of yachts. More than two dozen boats have needed external assistance, and the Spanish authorities have ordered the exclusion of boats of less than 15M from an area between Tarifa and Cape Trafalgar.

The official advice when dealing with an aggressive approach by orcas is to take down the sails, stop the engine and echo sounder, and not touch the wheel in the hope that eventually the orcas will simply mvd on. But the effectiveness of these measures is uncertain, and a Portuguese sailor has recently reported success with another technique - to go astern under power slowly at 2-3 knots. The idea is that the orca will want to stay clear of the propeller, and will not easily be able to bash against the rudder.”

Mr Duggan has asked us to point out that he accepts no responsibility whatsoever for any boat which has to motor astern all the way across the Bay of Biscay with an increasingly irritated pod of orcas following at the bow.

Seasoned sailor. Orca observer John Duggan on mainsheet trim aboard Otto Glaser’s 47ft McGruer sloop Tritsch-Tratsch II in the i975 Howth-Holyhead Race - in which she took line honours and the Class 1 win - with Olympic sailor Barry O’Neill beyond on the wheel. Photo: W M NixonSeasoned sailor. Orca observer John Duggan on mainsheet trim aboard Otto Glaser’s 47ft McGruer sloop Tritsch-Tratsch II in the i975 Howth-Holyhead Race - in which she took line honours and the Class 1 win - with Olympic sailor Barry O’Neill beyond on the wheel. Photo: W M Nixon

Published in Marine Wildlife
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Late last summer and into the Autumn, there were several reports of orcas – "killer whales" if you want to be more sensational – getting decidedly friendly to the point of aggression with fishing boats and sailing cruisers off the coasts of Spain and Portugal.

They seem to be back in business, but now it's off the coast of the Algarve, and Galicia-based sailor Jose Manuel Baldor Gutierrez has posted some vids showing a pair taking more interest than was comfortable in his 45-footer off Portugal's southern shore.

He reports:

"These videos are of what happened yesterday when sailing gently along on the south coast of Portugal, 12 miles from Cape Santa Maria in Faro. I don't know much about the subject of orcas and whales generally, but when the stern of the boat was suddenly turned 90 degrees, I thought at first it was a complete autopilot failure.

But immediately when I saw the orcas, I disconnected the autopilot, and then turned off all the other electronics and electrics by disconnecting the batteries. However, seeing that the orcas were still very much there, it seemed best to stop the boat moving altogether.

So we took all the sails down and left the boat to roll gently in the light winds, while the two of us got into the little bathtub to minimise our presence and maximise the number of protective layers between us and the orcas, should they decided to step up the attention in a more confrontational way.

We'd been "hiding" in the bathtub for a very long 10 to 15 minutes until – with the boat "dead" - they finally lost interest and left. But we waited another even longer 15 minutes before we re-connected the batteries and started sailing with very little wind, at first not using the engine and minimizing the changes to the rudder direction.

My feeling is that their interest is primarily in the rudder, as its movement suggests it's the only living part of the boat – they go to this mobile hull zone, because they can do nothing on the keel or bow. But having seen the sheer power evident in the way they spun our boat through 90 degrees with very little effort, it could be that accidents will happen if you try to control the rudder by hanging on to the wheel – you could end up with damaged arm and shoulder muscles, or even with a broken tiller arm on the rudder stock.

Now we know a little bit more about orcas, and luckily the experience ultimately went well"

Published in Marine Wildlife
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Stories of whales attacking boats at sea and sometimes sinking them go back a long way in maritime history, and as often as not it has happened in such a sudden and frightening way that identifying the precise species has not been part of the narrative.

But since mid-September, an increasing number of reports of whale attacks off the coast of Spain and Portugal have identified the largest dolphin, the orca or "killer whale", as being responsible for a continuing spate of attacks. And with verified incidents of rudders being torn off and hulls and keels - usually of fibreglass sailing boats – being seriously damaged, the maritime authorities in northwest Spain have become so concerned that a quite extensive exclusion zone for smaller craft has been imposed off the rugged coastline between El Ferrol and Punta de Estacia de Bares.

The exclusion zone for smaller craft off the rugged coastline between El Ferrol and Punta de Estacia de BaresThe exclusion zone for smaller craft off the rugged coastline between El Ferrol and Punta de Estacia de Bares

Several theories have been put forward to explain the unusually high incidence of these events, and in response to sensationalist local headlines of "TERROR KILLER WHALE ATTACKS", noted ocean voyager and marine scientist Vera Quinlan of Galway has made the reasonable point that it is humans invading their space who have described them as "killer" whales. They are in fact the largest species of dolphins, and it takes some of the heat out of the situation to give them their proper name of orca.

Nevertheless, the danger can ultimately be very real, and theories abound, such as the behaviour being a hostile response by whales to the sudden and marked increase in engine and propellor noise after some limitations of the pandemic lockdown was lifted in Spain, with coastal leisure traffic increasing to end a period of peace which was akin to the welcome silence which until recently prevailed onshore around noisy airports.

But as to whether or not it's an inbuilt whale dislike of fibreglass is difficult to assess, as the vast majority of boats have long since been constructed in GRP.

It's also said that modern hull shapes with the keel separate from the rudder may seem to whales like some sort of threatening sea creature, while another notion is that the whales approach the boat with very friendly or indeed amorous intentions, and then take a whack at it on being found they were mistaken.

As for keeping the engine running, the fact is a number of the attacks have taken place on boats which were motor-sailing.

And finally, there are those who reckon that the colour of your underwater paint is a significant factor. Old salts will tell you that having a white or red under-body is just asking for trouble – dark blue or black anti-fouling is your only man if you want to stay onside with the ocean cousins.

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

#MarineWildlife - Whale watchers on Slea Head were treated to a special sight earlier this week with the surprise appearance of the killer whale known as John Coe, as the Irish Examiner reports.

Landscape photographer Richard Creagh was among the lucky few on Monday (27 June) to spot the orca known by the distinctive notch on his dorsal fin – though in more recent times he's also lost a chunk of his tail fluke, most likely to a shark bite.

Creagh, a keen marine wildlife watcher for the last 10 years, said: "Up to now killer whales had always eluded me but today I got to add them to my list, and what a sight it was! I’m still buzzing!"

John Coe's unique orca pod are regular visitors to Irish waters, though he himself was last spotted close to our shores almost three years ago at the Inishkeas in Co Mayo, according to the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group – which is asking the public to watch the seas for any more sightings of the senior cetacean.

Published in Marine Wildlife

#DopeyDick - A killer whale who gained notoriety after swimming up the River Foyle in the late 1970s has been rediscovered enjoying his retirement off the west coast of Scotland, as the Derry Journal reports.

It's more than 38 years since the orca astounded the people of Derry by swimming up the estuary and hanging around the city for a number of days, earning the name 'Dopey Dick' for shrugging off attempts to lure him back to the safety of open water.

His whereabouts thereafter were unknown -- till cetacean experts with the Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust compared old photographs of his Derry visit with more recent images of the unique orca community that makes its home off the western Scottish coast, and identified a positive match.

Comet, as the orca is properly known, is estimated to be at least 58 years old, double the usual life expectancy for the species.

But that's not so surprising for the orca pod referred to as the 'West Coast Community', which has been a regular visitor to Irish waters over the years, and has interested marine wildlife specialists for decades due to its "evolutionary significant" qualities.

Sadly that group's numbers have been dwindling, with fellow orca Lulu becoming the latest victim after its believed she was entangled in fishing gear early this year, as previously reported on Afloat.ie.

Published in Marine Wildlife

#MarineWildlife - The killer whale found beached on a Scottish island last weekend likely died after getting entangled in fishing gear for days, say experts.

As previously reported on Afloat.ie, the orca known as Lulu to researchers, who have been tracking her unique pod since the early 1990s, was discovered on the island of Tiree in the Inner Hebrides last Sunday 3 January.

Lulu's "evolutionary significant" group has been under threat for years due to the absence of calves among its number since scientists began monitoring them around the Scottish and north Irish coasts.

But according to The Press and Journal, Lulu's death was not down to natural causes – with a post-mortem report from experts at the Scottish Marine Animal Strandings Scheme claiming "convincing evidence that she had become chronically entangled" in fishing gear, with deep wounds consistent with a rope wrapping around her tail.

“There were no ropes or gear left on the carcass," said the scientists in a statement. "We’re assuming all this from the lesions we found on her body, so we don’t know if this was due to active fishing gear, abandoned or ‘ghost’ gear, or other marine debris."

The Press and Journal has much more on the story HERE.

Published in Marine Wildlife

#MarineWildlife - One of the last remaining members of a unique pod of killer whales has been found dead on a Scottish island.

As STV News reports, the orca known as Lulu to marine researchers was found beached on the island of Tiree in the Inner Hebrides on Scotland's west coast on Sunday 3 January.

Like John Doe, who is believed to have survived an altercation with a shark a year ago, Lulu was one of a familiar family of orcas that's regularly seen off Scotland and even as far west as the Donegal coast.

It's a pod that's piqued the interest of marine science due to its genetic distinctiveness from other orcas in the North Atlantic, as previously reported on Afloat.ie.

But the "evolutionary significant" group's numbers have been dwindling in recent years due to the absence of calves since scientists started tracking them more than two decades ago.

"It is particularly sad to know that another one of these killer whales, unique to the British and Irish Isles, has died," said the Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust. "There may be as few as eight individuals remaining in this population."

STV News has more on the story HERE.

Published in Marine Wildlife

#MarineWildlife - A seal pup was lunch for a killer whale that's been attracting onlookers to Wales' Irish Sea coast in recent days.

As the Carmarthen Journal reports, the orca was first sighted of Mwnt, north of Cardigan, over the summer, but has since been spotted further down the coast near Fishguard - believed to be attracted by a boom in the local seal population.

It marks a rare appearance for the species in the Irish Sea, as they're more commonly spotted in Scottish waters and off Ireland's North Coast.

And it comes not long after another rare sight in the form of a pod of Risso's dolphins sighted near Anglesey in north Wales earlier this month - with experts telling BBC News that it may be one of the largest such pods ever recorded in Welsh waters.

In other marine mammal news, The Irish Times has video of a seal who appears to have taken a liking to Dublin city centre, swimming many kilometres up the Liffey from the usual Dublin Bay haunts.

Published in Marine Wildlife

#orca – Crews from commercial and Royal Navy vessels have started training for the Orca Ocean Watch Week, an initiative by the whale and dolphin conservation charity ORCA, that is being launched at Portsmouth International Port this month.

Between 25th July and 2nd August bridge crews are being asked to report all sightings of whales, dolphins and porpoises as they sail to and from Portsmouth International Port. The records they produce will help ORCA develop the clearest picture yet of just where the much loved marine mammals are living.

The enthusiastic team from ORCA have spent time training crews from a wide variety of operators, including the banana boats that come and go on a regular basis from the Caribbean and Central America. They've also spent time with the Royal Navy, briefing crews from Portsmouth based vessels.

The Royal Navy ships HMS Smiter, HMS Puncher, HMS Explorer and HMS Trumpeter will be sailing through the English Channel, down into the Northern Bay of Biscay and up into the Baltic Sea. These ships are among 11 vessels contributing to the activity from the 1st Patrol Boat Squadron that are operating all over Western Continental Europe and the British Isles.

Lieutenant Commander Phil Houghton of the 1st Patrol Boat Squadron said, "The Royal Navy and in particular 1PBS are delighted to be able to participate in OceanWatch 2015 and do what they can to support the better appreciation of the complex and vulnerable marine environment in which we operate. Only by understanding the animals and habitats around our local waters can we provide the appropriate protection for them."

Orca Ocean Watch Week will be launched on Monday 20th July by television wildlife expert Nigel Marven. Nigel will be joined at the new passenger terminal at Portsmouth International Port by a 50 foot, life-sized model of a blue whale, and school children eager to learn more about the variety of wildlife in the seas off Portsmouth.

By the time Ocean Watch Week is underway ORCA will have trained crews from over 20 vessels, including ferries, freight ships, cruise liners and small ships.

If you're interested in spotting these fantastic animals yourself, Brittany Ferries and ORCA offer Whale Watching mini cruises from Portsmouth, an increasingly popular trip across the Bay of Biscay, which is one of the most important habitats for whales and dolphins on the planet. ORCA is also working with operators at other ports along the South Coast and Scotland, attempting to get the widest coverage possible for its important survey.

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.

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