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Displaying items by tag: orca

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
Tagged under

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.

#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
Tagged under

#MarineWildlife - The Irish Whale and Dolphin Group (IWDG) reports on a killer whale stranding near Tramore in Co Waterford yesterday (Friday 30 January).

The five-metre-long female orca was described as being in "a very fresh condition" and was found to have very worn teeth, which points to malnutrition as a potential cause of death.

A post-mortem is scheduled to be carried out tomorrow by a team from the IWDG and Galway-Mayo IT.

The incident is the latest in a "disturbing high" rate of cetacean strandings around the Irish coast this January, with a total of 32 recorded across nine identifiable species.

While it's as yet unknown what has caused this spike in numbers, the recent severe weather systems coming from the Atlantic may be a factor in driving carcasses of animals that may have died of natural causes towards the Irish coast.

The IWDG has more on the story HERE.

Published in Marine Wildlife

#MarineWildlife - A well-known killer whale pod often seen off the coasts of Scotland and Ireland is on the 'brink of extinction', as HeraldScotland reports.

Marine wildlife experts who have been monitoring the group for two decades say that no live calves have been recorded since their research began, and that the females of the group can no longer reproduce.

The orca pod, of which nine adults remain, is said to be genetically distinct from other killer whales in the North Atlantic, and bares closer relation to their cousins in Antarctic waters.

A spokesperson for the Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust described as "critical" the conservation status of the group.

"As sad as this is, the loss of this group has severe consequences, resulting in the loss of an evolutionary significant group of individuals," she added.

Published in Marine Wildlife
Page 1 of 2

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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