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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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Marine scientists have published landmark advice to the European Commission for urgent action to protect dolphins and porpoise in European waters.

According to EU Reporter, the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES) is advocating for ‘emergency measures’ to prevent bycatch of these vulnerable marine wildlife amid fishing activity in the Bay of Biscay and Baltic Sea.

ICES also insists that such measures, including the closure of some fisheries, would have to be instituted over the long term to ensure the future survival of the species under threat.

The move comes after a network of NGOs, which included the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group, last year called on the Commission to take action against 15 EU member states for failing in their cities to protect cetaceans from bycatch in the North East Atlantic.

EU Reporter has much more on the story HERE.

Published in Marine Wildlife
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A new hour-long documentary following the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group (IWDG) on a unique research expedition to the Arctic Circle is now available to rent and watch on demand.

On The Trail Of The Humpback Whale tells the story of the IWDG’s weeks-long passage to Iceland two years ago in search of humpback whales, building links with the country and its people among the way.

Tony Whelan of Canola Pictures — which also produced The Humpback Whales of Cape Verde — was along for the voyage, documenting the team’s encounters with local people and marine wildlife alike.

The IWDG previously brought the story of their adventure on a nationwide tour — and now it can be enjoyed at home on your choice of computer, tablet, smartphone or streaming box.

Published in Marine Wildlife

How many basking sharks have reclaimed the waters off the South and West Coasts? “We don’t really know” is the honest answer from the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group.

But after a video of surfers in a close encounter with a school of the marine wildlife giants went viral last week, it’s become clear that the numbers — potentially into the thousands — are remarkable, if not unusual.

Getting a complete picture, however, “would require something like an aerial survey”, says IWDG sightings officer Pádraig Whooley.

In the meantime, their close proximity to the shore to feed on zooplankton presents “a fantastic opportunity for the members of the public to observe and record their observations to the IWDG, and thus make a real contribution to marine conservation”.

Published in Marine Wildlife
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Ireland's Commercial Fishing 

The Irish Commercial Fishing Industry employs around 11,000 people in fishing, processing and ancillary services such as sales and marketing. The industry is worth about €1.22 billion annually to the Irish economy. Irish fisheries products are exported all over the world as far as Africa, Japan and China.

FAQs

Over 16,000 people are employed directly or indirectly around the coast, working on over 2,000 registered fishing vessels, in over 160 seafood processing businesses and in 278 aquaculture production units, according to the State's sea fisheries development body Bord Iascaigh Mhara (BIM).

All activities that are concerned with growing, catching, processing or transporting fish are part of the commercial fishing industry, the development of which is overseen by BIM. Recreational fishing, as in angling at sea or inland, is the responsibility of Inland Fisheries Ireland.

The Irish fishing industry is valued at 1.22 billion euro in gross domestic product (GDP), according to 2019 figures issued by BIM. Only 179 of Ireland's 2,000 vessels are over 18 metres in length. Where does Irish commercially caught fish come from? Irish fish and shellfish is caught or cultivated within the 200-mile exclusive economic zone (EEZ), but Irish fishing grounds are part of the common EU "blue" pond. Commercial fishing is regulated under the terms of the EU Common Fisheries Policy (CFP), initiated in 1983 and with ten-yearly reviews.

The total value of seafood landed into Irish ports was 424 million euro in 2019, according to BIM. High value landings identified in 2019 were haddock, hake, monkfish and megrim. Irish vessels also land into foreign ports, while non-Irish vessels land into Irish ports, principally Castletownbere, Co Cork, and Killybegs, Co Donegal.

There are a number of different methods for catching fish, with technological advances meaning skippers have detailed real time information at their disposal. Fisheries are classified as inshore, midwater, pelagic or deep water. Inshore targets species close to shore and in depths of up to 200 metres, and may include trawling and gillnetting and long-lining. Trawling is regarded as "active", while "passive" or less environmentally harmful fishing methods include use of gill nets, long lines, traps and pots. Pelagic fisheries focus on species which swim close to the surface and up to depths of 200 metres, including migratory mackerel, and tuna, and methods for catching include pair trawling, purse seining, trolling and longlining. Midwater fisheries target species at depths of around 200 metres, using trawling, longlining and jigging. Deepwater fisheries mainly use trawling for species which are found at depths of over 600 metres.

There are several segments for different catching methods in the registered Irish fleet – the largest segment being polyvalent or multi-purpose vessels using several types of gear which may be active and passive. The polyvalent segment ranges from small inshore vessels engaged in netting and potting to medium and larger vessels targeting whitefish, pelagic (herring, mackerel, horse mackerel and blue whiting) species and bivalve molluscs. The refrigerated seawater (RSW) pelagic segment is engaged mainly in fishing for herring, mackerel, horse mackerel and blue whiting only. The beam trawling segment focuses on flatfish such as sole and plaice. The aquaculture segment is exclusively for managing, developing and servicing fish farming areas and can collect spat from wild mussel stocks.

The top 20 species landed by value in 2019 were mackerel (78 million euro); Dublin Bay prawn (59 million euro); horse mackerel (17 million euro); monkfish (17 million euro); brown crab (16 million euro); hake (11 million euro); blue whiting (10 million euro); megrim (10 million euro); haddock (9 million euro); tuna (7 million euro); scallop (6 million euro); whelk (5 million euro); whiting (4 million euro); sprat (3 million euro); herring (3 million euro); lobster (2 million euro); turbot (2 million euro); cod (2 million euro); boarfish (2 million euro).

Ireland has approximately 220 million acres of marine territory, rich in marine biodiversity. A marine biodiversity scheme under Ireland's operational programme, which is co-funded by the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund and the Government, aims to reduce the impact of fisheries and aquaculture on the marine environment, including avoidance and reduction of unwanted catch.

EU fisheries ministers hold an annual pre-Christmas council in Brussels to decide on total allowable catches and quotas for the following year. This is based on advice from scientific bodies such as the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea. In Ireland's case, the State's Marine Institute publishes an annual "stock book" which provides the most up to date stock status and scientific advice on over 60 fish stocks exploited by the Irish fleet. Total allowable catches are supplemented by various technical measures to control effort, such as the size of net mesh for various species.

The west Cork harbour of Castletownbere is Ireland's biggest whitefish port. Killybegs, Co Donegal is the most important port for pelagic (herring, mackerel, blue whiting) landings. Fish are also landed into Dingle, Co Kerry, Rossaveal, Co Galway, Howth, Co Dublin and Dunmore East, Co Waterford, Union Hall, Co Cork, Greencastle, Co Donegal, and Clogherhead, Co Louth. The busiest Northern Irish ports are Portavogie, Ardglass and Kilkeel, Co Down.

Yes, EU quotas are allocated to other fleets within the Irish EEZ, and Ireland has long been a transhipment point for fish caught by the Spanish whitefish fleet in particular. Dingle, Co Kerry has seen an increase in foreign landings, as has Castletownbere. The west Cork port recorded foreign landings of 36 million euro or 48 per cent in 2019, and has long been nicknamed the "peseta" port, due to the presence of Spanish-owned transhipment plant, Eiranova, on Dinish island.

Most fish and shellfish caught or cultivated in Irish waters is for the export market, and this was hit hard from the early stages of this year's Covid-19 pandemic. The EU, Asia and Britain are the main export markets, while the middle Eastern market is also developing and the African market has seen a fall in value and volume, according to figures for 2019 issued by BIM.

Fish was once a penitential food, eaten for religious reasons every Friday. BIM has worked hard over several decades to develop its appeal. Ireland is not like Spain – our land is too good to transform us into a nation of fish eaters, but the obvious health benefits are seeing a growth in demand. Seafood retail sales rose by one per cent in 2019 to 300 million euro. Salmon and cod remain the most popular species, while BIM reports an increase in sales of haddock, trout and the pangasius or freshwater catfish which is cultivated primarily in Vietnam and Cambodia and imported by supermarkets here.

The EU's Common Fisheries Policy (CFP), initiated in 1983, pooled marine resources – with Ireland having some of the richest grounds and one of the largest sea areas at the time, but only receiving four per cent of allocated catch by a quota system. A system known as the "Hague Preferences" did recognise the need to safeguard the particular needs of regions where local populations are especially dependent on fisheries and related activities. The State's Sea Fisheries Protection Authority, based in Clonakilty, Co Cork, works with the Naval Service on administering the EU CFP. The Department of Agriculture, Food and Marine and Department of Transport regulate licensing and training requirements, while the Marine Survey Office is responsible for the implementation of all national and international legislation in relation to safety of shipping and the prevention of pollution.

Yes, a range of certificates of competency are required for skippers and crew. Training is the remit of BIM, which runs two national fisheries colleges at Greencastle, Co Donegal and Castletownbere, Co Cork. There have been calls for the colleges to be incorporated into the third-level structure of education, with qualifications recognised as such.

Safety is always an issue, in spite of technological improvements, as fishing is a hazardous occupation and climate change is having its impact on the severity of storms at sea. Fishing skippers and crews are required to hold a number of certificates of competency, including safety and navigation, and wearing of personal flotation devices is a legal requirement. Accidents come under the remit of the Marine Casualty Investigation Board, and the Health and Safety Authority. The MCIB does not find fault or blame, but will make recommendations to the Minister for Transport to avoid a recurrence of incidents.

Fish are part of a marine ecosystem and an integral part of the marine food web. Changing climate is having a negative impact on the health of the oceans, and there have been more frequent reports of warmer water species being caught further and further north in Irish waters.

Brexit, Covid 19, EU policies and safety – Britain is a key market for Irish seafood, and 38 per cent of the Irish catch is taken from the waters around its coast. Ireland's top two species – mackerel and prawns - are 60 per cent and 40 per cent, respectively, dependent on British waters. Also, there are serious fears within the Irish industry about the impact of EU vessels, should they be expelled from British waters, opting to focus even more efforts on Ireland's rich marine resource. Covid-19 has forced closure of international seafood markets, with high value fish sold to restaurants taking a large hit. A temporary tie-up support scheme for whitefish vessels introduced for the summer of 2020 was condemned by industry organisations as "designed to fail".

Sources: Bord Iascaigh Mhara, Marine Institute, Department of Agriculture, Food and Marine, Department of Transport © Afloat 2020

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