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The Irish Whale and Dolphin Group’s annual conference is moving online — and broadcasting live from West Clare next Saturday 12 December.

Whale Tales is the annual meeting of the IWDG, where members and people interested in whales, dolphins and porpoises in Ireland are invited to join in a shared appreciation and admiration of these charismatic examples of marine wildlife.

This year, due to coronavirus restrictions. Whale Tales 2020 will be a virtual meeting, with a panel of local speakers calling in from the IWDG head office in Kilrush as well as special guests from further afield.

Among them will be Joy Reidenberg, from the hit TV programme Inside Nature’s Giants, who will discuss the topic of large whale necropsies and what we can learn from them.

In the afternoon, Mags Daly of the Shannon Dolphin Project will tell tales of her favourite mammals and share some of her stories from the Shannon Estuary this summer.

Registration is free for all who want to join in, but donations are welcome to support the IWDG in its recording and conservation efforts.

The full programme of events, including details of how to book your virtual spot, can be found on the IWDG website HERE.

Published in Marine Wildlife
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The first Irish and Scottish Humpback 'match' has been made from images taken on the Shetland Islands at the weekend and then matched to photographs of the same whale off Ireland in 2015 and seen again off Irish coastal waters as recently as June 2020.

In an exciting development for Irish marine wildlife fans, the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group (IWDG) confirmed on social media this morning (see below) that the Irish Humpback whale named #HBIRL38 was photographed on 7 November off Whalsay, Shetland. This whale has been recorded 16 times by the IWDG over four years since July 2015 and was last seen off West Cork on 2 June 2020.

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“It’s better this way, rather than Fungie wash up dead on the shores of Dingle Bay, [that he] just disappear.”

That’s the message from the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group’s (IWDG) chief executive as nearly two weeks have passed since Dingle’s longtime resident dolphin was last seen in the Co Kerry village.

Writing on the IWDG website, Dr Simon Berrow reminisces about his own encounters with the friendly bottlenose since his own arrival in the West of Ireland in 1988.

And he believes that Fungie has been an inspiration some of the millions who have witnessed him over the years to pursue further interests in marine matters.

But Dr Berrow is also brutally honest about the region’s over-reliance on the marine wildlife singleton as a draw for visitors.

“Building an international tourism product on a single dolphin was never going to last,” he says. “It was unsustainable.”

The IWDG website has more HERE.

Published in Marine Wildlife
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The Irish Whale and Dolphin Group (IWDG) says it has recently documented evidence of a humpback whale scarred by entanglement in fishing gear in Irish waters.

Humpback IRL#HB43 was photographed in Dingle Bay on Sunday 11 October by IWDG member Nick Massett, who noted in his images some significant scarring on its tail fluke that was not present when the same whale was spotted off West Kerry two months prior.

The charity says this scarring is consistent with entanglement — and it’s believed, based on the marine wildlife giant’s known movements between August and this month, that the lesions were sustained off West Kerry.

Humpback whales regularly feed in Ireland’s inshore waters during the summer and autumn. But this activity also brings the whales into close proximity with active fisheries.

“It’s likely this animal got caught in the rising rope of a marker buoy to a string of lobster pots, or gill net,” Massett says.

Entanglement in fishing gear is an issue of emerging concern to the IWDG, which is working with Dr Charla Basran at the University of Iceland’s Husavik Research Centre to quantify the rate of entanglement of humpback whales in Irish waters.

Dr Basran recently published work showing that 24.8% of 379 individual humpback whales photographed in Iceland presented wrapping injuries and notches known to be indicative of entanglement.

Ireland shares a whale population with Iceland, and the IWDG says will be interesting to quantify the rate of these lesions on whales photographed in Ireland — and potentially reveal where along their journey to the North Atlantic from their southern breeding grounds they pick up their wounds.

The IWDG is planning a workshop on the issue supported by knife-maker Spyderco, which has provided knives customised for cutting ropes from live whales.

Published in Marine Wildlife
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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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It has emerged that the deadly mass stranding of bottlenose whales in Donegal was preceded by two live strandings in the Faroe Islands two days prior.

And it’s led experts at the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group (IWDG) to suggest the marine wildlife incidents might be linked and “part of a much wider event”.

The group adds that images of two Northern bottlenose whales — of the same species that died in Donegal — were captured the next day in Scotland as far inshore as Greenock Harbour, on the Clyde west of Glasgow.

More recently, two of the deep water cetaceans have been seen in the North Sea off Norfolk, and two others were spotted at the Netherlands’ Eastern Scheldt.

“Clearly something is happening to this group of whales we know so little about,” the IWDG says, adding that the situation also “demonstrates the need for a response protocol” for similar strandings in Ireland.

Published in Marine Wildlife

One of the victims of a deadly mass stranding of bottlenose whales in Donegal last week has not reappeared, according to Highland Radio.

Seven of the marine mammals died in the biggest mass stranding of its kind on record in Ireland, as previously reported on Afloat.ie.

The eighth whale was refloated in the shallows when the tide came in, and hopes were that it would make to back to deeper waters on its own. However it was confirmed to have died the following morning, Thursdasy 20 August.

Local volunteers with the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group (IWDG) have appealed for the public to report any possible sightings, as they are keen to get samples which might reveal more details about the whale pod and its sudden demise.

Elsewhere, rare video has been captured of the humpback whale known as ‘Boomerang’ off West Cork, as RTÉ News reports.

The whale is the third humpback in the IWDG’s records. It was first identified in 2001 thanks to its unique dorsal fin, and has returned to feed in Irish waters regularly over the last two decades.

This story was updated on Monday 31 August to correct details about the refloated bottlenose whale, which was not presumed to have survived as the previous version stated.

Published in Marine Wildlife

The Army could be employed to euthanise beached whales and other marine wildlife that have no prospect of being refloated, the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group suggests in its draft protocol.

As the Irish Independent reports, the proposal is part of the charity’s push towards a more humane approach to whale strandings — a subject in focus since last week’s mass deaths of bottlenose whales in Co Donegal, the largest of its kind on record in Ireland.

Concerns were raised over crowds gathered on Rossnowlagh Beach last Wednesday (19 August) to take selfies or demand further rescue efforts, causing the animals additional distress in their final moments.

The IWDG’s chief Dr Simon Berrow said: “People are naturally curious and very well-meaning, but there was no possibility of refloating the whales, and we were trying to minimise their distress.”

Dr Berrow ruled out the use of drugs to euthanise stranded marine wildlife, but suggested that the Army could be trained for ‘humane shooting’ and called for inter-agency discussion of the matter.

The Irish Independent has more on the story HERE.

Published in Marine Wildlife
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Seven northern bottlenose whales have died in what’s been described as the largest mass stranding of its kind in Ireland.

The Irish Whale and Dolphin Group (IWDG) confirmed the deaths to RTÉ News after the incident was reported on Rossnowlagh beach yesterday, Wednesday 19 August.

However, it was hoped that the eighth whale, which refloated in the shallows after the tide came in, would make it back to deeper waters of its own accord.

The IWDG urged the public to keep their distance from the whales after “upsetting news” that crowds had formed to take selfies next to the distressed marine wildlife.

“We know very little about them, but they are prone to mass strandings,” IWDG chief executive Simon Berrow told TheJournal.ie. “This is the largest mass stranding of this species ever in Ireland.”

Published in Marine Wildlife

The Irish Whale and Dolphin Group has celebrated a milestone with the confirmation of the 100th and 101st individual humpback whales in its catalogue of Ireland’s waters.

The sightings were made last Monday 20 July by Nick Massett in outer Dingle Bay — and reflect just how far the IWDG has come with its marine wildlife monitoring project, says IWDG sightings officer Pádraig Whooley.

Proper records first began in September 1999 with just three humpbacks spotted off the Kinsale Gas Fields in West Cork, and averaged fewer than one a year until the end of the Noughties, when the record totalled 12.

Humpback whale sightings became more numerous and West Cork it seemed no longer had a monopoly

“Then during the second decade, there was a change,” Whooley said.

“Humpback whale sightings became more numerous and West Cork it seemed no longer had a monopoly on the Big Winged New Englander, as individuals starting showing up as far east as Hook Head and Curracloe in Co Wexford.

“But there was always a sense that these were outliers; the real range expansion was further west off the Slea Head Peninsula, Co Kerry.

“During the second half of the decade it seemed fairly evenly split between the West Cork and West Kerry hotspots.

“That was until 2015 when something changed in the northeast Atlantic and in this year alone we doubled the numbers of animals on the catalogue from 33 to 66, with most of these showing up in West Kerry and almost all of them being new animals, never previously documented in Irish waters.”

This was also when the international research community began to take notice, especially since Irish sightings “were coming from an area where previously few humpbacks had been recorded”, Whooley said.

“We started off 2020 with 97 individually recognisable humpback whales, and it was always likely to be a big year for the catalogue, even with Covid.”

He added: “To have reached 100 by 2020, although not quite exponential, it is remarkable and surely mirrors the global recovery of this most iconic species.”

And the latest additions to the catalogue are not the only cause for celebration, as the IWDG have also made their third Irish match to the Cape Verde breeding grounds — the second this year after Ireland’s long-suspected link to the waters off West Africa was confirmed a year ago.

“It’s a great story and one IWDG look forward to sharing with you over the next 21 years,” Whooley said. “It seems humpback whales have an endless capacity to inspire both whale watchers and whale researchers alike.”

Published in Marine Wildlife
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Ferry & Car Ferry News The ferry industry on the Irish Sea, is just like any other sector of the shipping industry, in that it is made up of a myriad of ship operators, owners, managers, charterers all contributing to providing a network of routes carried out by a variety of ships designed for different albeit similar purposes.

All this ferry activity involves conventional ferry tonnage, 'ro-pax', where the vessel's primary design is to carry more freight capacity rather than passengers. This is in some cases though, is in complete variance to the fast ferry craft where they carry many more passengers and charging a premium.

In reporting the ferry scene, we examine the constantly changing trends of this sector, as rival ferry operators are competing in an intensive environment, battling out for market share following the fallout of the economic crisis. All this has consequences some immediately felt, while at times, the effects can be drawn out over time, leading to the expense of others, through reduced competition or takeover or even face complete removal from the marketplace, as witnessed in recent years.

Arising from these challenging times, there are of course winners and losers, as exemplified in the trend to run high-speed ferry craft only during the peak-season summer months and on shorter distance routes. In addition, where fastcraft had once dominated the ferry scene, during the heady days from the mid-90's onwards, they have been replaced by recent newcomers in the form of the 'fast ferry' and with increased levels of luxury, yet seeming to form as a cost-effective alternative.

Irish Sea Ferry Routes

Irrespective of the type of vessel deployed on Irish Sea routes (between 2-9 hours), it is the ferry companies that keep the wheels of industry moving as freight vehicles literally (roll-on and roll-off) ships coupled with motoring tourists and the humble 'foot' passenger transported 363 days a year.

As such the exclusive freight-only operators provide important trading routes between Ireland and the UK, where the freight haulage customer is 'king' to generating year-round revenue to the ferry operator. However, custom built tonnage entering service in recent years has exceeded the level of capacity of the Irish Sea in certain quarters of the freight market.

A prime example of the necessity for trade in which we consumers often expect daily, though arguably question how it reached our shores, is the delivery of just in time perishable products to fill our supermarket shelves.

A visual manifestation of this is the arrival every morning and evening into our main ports, where a combination of ferries, ro-pax vessels and fast-craft all descend at the same time. In essence this a marine version to our road-based rush hour traffic going in and out along the commuter belts.

Across the Celtic Sea, the ferry scene coverage is also about those overnight direct ferry routes from Ireland connecting the north-western French ports in Brittany and Normandy.

Due to the seasonality of these routes to Europe, the ferry scene may be in the majority running between February to November, however by no means does this lessen operator competition.

Noting there have been plans over the years to run a direct Irish –Iberian ferry service, which would open up existing and develop new freight markets. Should a direct service open, it would bring new opportunities also for holidaymakers, where Spain is the most visited country in the EU visited by Irish holidaymakers ... heading for the sun!

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