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Displaying items by tag: fin whales

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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#MarineWildlife - Residents on Arranmore off the Donegal coast were surprised to find a rare whale carcass washed up on their island over the weekend.

According to BBC News, the 20-metre cetacean is believed to be a fin whale, an endangered species not normally spotted so close to Irish shores.

Though photo opportunities may be tempting, the public has been urged to stay away from the carcass for health and safety reasons.

Fin whales are sometimes spotted offshore, says Dave Wall of the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group (IWDG), who added that this whale was likely dead for some time before its carcass beached.

It’s not known what causes the fin whale’s death. But marine debris — especially microbeads from bathroom products – is a growing threat to all whales, dolphins and porpoise in Irish waters, as the IWDG recently reported.

Citing a new study that found marine debris (such as plastic bags and fish hooks) in the digestive tracts of 8.5% of cetaceans examined, the IWDG highlights that micro-plastics were present in the guts of every animal in the study.

“While larger marine debris has been shown to cause impaction of the gut and other complications which can lead to death, the impact of micro-plastic contamination is not known,” says the group.

“It is thought it can act as a vehicle for persistent pollutants, which adhere to the large surface area resulting in a potential increase in contaminant burdens in marine mammals.”

The IWDG has more on the study HERE.

Published in Marine Wildlife
Tagged under

#MarineWildlife - Marine scientists have been puzzled by the recent beaching of a whale rarely seen off the east coast of England.

According to the Guardian, the carcass of a 12m fin whale washed up at Holkham in Norfolk last Thursday afternoon (20 October), far from its usual waters between Britain and Ireland.

“You never get them in the North Sea, so what it was doing there, we have no idea at the moment,” biologist Dr Ben Garrod told the newspaper.

It’s not yet known what causes the marine giant’s death, though collision with a vessel in the North Sea has been mooted as one possibility, as the Eastern Daily Press reports.

Published in Marine Wildlife

#MarineWildlife - Whale sightings are on the increase in the South East this week as the season tapers off, according to the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group (IWDG).

"As large whales don't keep to our calendar year, this annual south east flurry of large whale sightings represents the tail-end our our large whale season," says the IWDG's sightings officer Pádraig Whooley.

"And what a season it has been, especially for the humpback whale, which have enjoyed a record year both in terms of frequency of sightings since they first appeared in early May off the Slea Head Peninsula."

The latest spots were made both on land – by Andrew Malcolm and Ann Trimble from Ardmore Co in Waterford at the weekend – and on a whale-watching trip with Martin Colfer's South Coast Charter Angling, recording a humpback whale and more than five fin whales between them.

And there might still be time to head down to the Sunny South East to catch a glimpse of these ocean giants before they depart for the spring.

Published in Marine Wildlife

#MarineWildlife - The Irish Whale and Dolphin Group (IWDG) has proposed a restriction of seismic survey activity on the slopes of the Irish continental shelf and the Porcupine Seablight.

The IWDG says its move "stems from an increasing body of evidence which indicates that the Irish Shelf Slopes and Porcupine Seablight are an important migration route and opportunistic foraging area for blue whales and fin whales from August to March each year.

"Humpback whales are also known to migrate along a similar route in the winter and early spring," it added in a statement.

The cetacean conservation charity as expressed concern at what it perceives as "a large increase in seismic survey activity in the Porpcupine Seablight during the main migration period and recent evidence of disturbance to these migrating whales by seismic surveys."

As a result, the IWDG has proposed to the Petroleum Affairs Division of the Department of Natural Resources that seismic surveys – such as that scheduled to be conducted in the Porcupine Basin this September – be "restricted to the months March to August, outside of the migration period, in order to minimise disturbance to these highly endangered whale species."

According to the group "similar measures" have been successful in other parts of the world, such as off South Africa, where whales "seasonally occur in large numbers".

The IWDG's proposal is available as a PDF to download HERE.

Published in Marine Wildlife

#MarineWildlife - Late summer brings fin whales flocking to West Cork in big numbers, with the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group estimating at least 20 of the second-largest ocean species sighted between Seven Heads and Galley Head.

Indeed, as IWDG sightings officer Padraig Whooley writes, the gathering "is certainly the largest validated aggregation of this species so far this year" and comes some months ahead of the usual peak from October to December.

Recommended spots for watching these fin whale visitors - though you will need some decent binoculars to get the best views - are the aforementioned Galley Head and Seven Heads as eel as Cloghna Head, Dunworley and Sandscove.

Kerry has its own share of whale visitors, with a "lovely run" of humpbacks in recent weeks, while East Coast residents aren't left out, either, with a rare sighting of a minke whale in the Irish Sea some 20km off Bray Head over a week ago.

In other cetacean news, West Cork has become home to a new solitary dolphin in the form of Clet, a bottlenose who's been spotted in Glandore, Baltimore and Schull after time from Devon, Cornwall, South Wales and originally France.

Yet as IWDG welfare officer Paul Kiernan warns, Clet might appear cute but he's very much a wild animal, with reports claiming a swimmer off Sherkin Island was "aggressively pushed underwater by the dolphin".

Such stories, Kiernan writes, point "to the need for people to exercise common sense and extreme caution in how best to enjoy an interaction with this very large, apex predator."

He adds: "Bottlenose dolphins are not cute and cuddly, they are not our 'friends' and nor do they benefit in any meaningful or long term way from interacting with humans."

Published in Marine Wildlife

#MarineWildlife - The Irish Whale and Dolphin Group is reporting a "high volume of sightings" of minke whales - plus the odd fin whale - off the coasts of West Cork and Kerry as this week's heatwave continues to bask the country.

The first reports from the early part of the week showed a big increase of sightings and activity in the southwest region - but also off Mullaghmore, the popular surfing spot in Co Sligo, where as many as three minkes were spotted last weekend, and as far afield as Belfast Lough where several minke whales were photographed.

As the week progressed, the first confirmed sighting of a fin whale came in from Slea Head in Co Kerry in waters teeming with six minke whales and around 150 common dolphins.

And a whale watch trip of West Cork came into range of an amazing 12 minke whales, including a number of juveniles who seemed to make a game of swimming around the watchers' vessel.

The latest reports came in on Thursday from Baltimore and Clougher Head, which indicate that fin whales may be arriving here in big numbers. Here's hoping a few humpbacks will follow in their wake!

Published in Marine Wildlife

#MarineWildlife - Here's a little something cheerful to brighten up this chilly, snowy Monday morning: some video footage from YouTube shot by Irish Whale and Dolphin Group (IWDG) member Karl Grabe of the first whales to visit Ireland's shores in 2013.

As previously reported on Afloat.ie, the first sightings were made last week on the maiden member whale-watching trip on board the IWDG's new marine wildlife research vessel Celtic Mist off the coast of Wexford.

In addition to these fin whales, the group also made the acquaintance of a group of frolicking dolphins from the 'superpod' spotted in the Irish Sea recently, as you can see from the clip below:

Published in Marine Wildlife

#MarineWildlife - The whale watching season is well under way off the coast of Wexford, as the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group (IWDG) reported its first sightings of 2013 this week.

Just an hour into the maiden cetacean spotting voyage of the IWDG's new research vessel Celtic Mist at the weekend, members of the group were treated to the sight of fin whales and minke whales feeding south of Hook Head - not to mention some of the 'superpod' of dolphins seen last week in the Irish Sea.

And as World Irish reports, local wildlife ranger Tony Murray spotted the first humpback whale of the year in the same area.

Murray suggested that "a large herring haul going on in the southeast at the moment" is the main attraction for the ocean giants and their smaller, more plentiful companions.

The IWDG's Facebook page has a photo gallery containing some stunning snapshots of the day's excursion HERE.

Published in Marine Wildlife

#MarineWildlife - The Irish Whale and Dolphin Group (IWDG) reports of another "frenzy of activity" while on a whale research cruise off West Cork this week.

The 'members only' trip on Wednesday 5 December took in the hotspot west of Reen Pier in Union Hall "where humpback and fin whales have enthralled hundreds of whale watchers and wildlife enthusiasts alike in recent weeks," according to IWDG sightings co-ordinator Pádraig Whooley.

When it soon became clear that most of the whales had left the area, the team headed east to return an ill member to shore.

"This turn of events proved almost karmic," says Whooley, "as not long after dropping our colleague back to Reen Pier, we started getting text messages from IWDG observers Tim Feen and Chris O'Sullivan of both humpback and fin whales well to the east on the Clonakilty Bay side of Galley Head."

Racing against the fading afternoon light, the boat made it to the scene to witness the blows first of fin whales, then humpbacks - at least five of the latter and seven of the former - and confirming them as the giants previously seen between the Kedge and Stags.

The team collected biopsy samples from most of the relaxed pod, including one that is suspected to be a female humpback with a calf.

"Since then, the weather has been very poor," says Whooley, "but there are still sufficient reports coming into IWDG to suggest to us that the large whale activity is slowly pushing east."

The IWDG is also collaborating with the BBC's WinterWatch programme next week, which is hoping to follow up on last year's AutumnWatch special on fin whales from East Cork and Waterford by filming humpback whales in West Cork.

Members of the public or whale-watchers are encouraged to report any sightings they might witness over the weekend to the IWDG by using the 'Report a sighting' link on the home page at iwdg.ie.

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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