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#MarineWildlife - The Papal visit brought numbers down for 2018’s Whale Watch Ireland last Saturday (25 August).

But some 950 wildlife enthusiasts still came out to 19 sites around the island of Ireland for the chance to spot some of the many whales, dolphins, porpoise and other wildlife in our waters.

Most sites reported a reduction in numbers, with only three seeing a modest increase. But it’s expected that next year’s turnout will be back to it regular size, coinciding as ever with events for Heritage Week.

Sightings were also lower this year — on average a 43% reduction on 2017’s records — with only three cetacean species spotted, namely harbour porpoise (50), common dolphins (40) and minke whales (5).

The success or otherwise of event is generally determined by the prevailing weather on the day, and thankfully most sites were treated to calm seas and clear skies which resulted in cetacean sightings at three-quarters of the sites covered at this year’s event.

Other species noted include grey seals, a basking shark and a sunfish.

Despite the lower attendance and sighting rates, the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group says it is “very pleased” with this year’s results.

“And we hope that among those who attended, there will be some new members for IWDG and dedicated whale watchers who are willing to volunteer some of their time and energy in furthering our understanding of the whales and dolphins that live in Irish coastal waters.”

The IWDG reports that usual there was a mix of both Irish and overseas visitors to the watches, and for many attending this was their first encounter with a cetacean in the wild in Irish waters.

Published in Marine Wildlife
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#MarineWildlife - The Irish Whale and Dolphin Group (IWDG) has expressed concern in the wake of at least 16 Cuvier’s beaked whales washing up on the Irish coast this month.

Following the discovery of five beaked whales in a single day at the start of August, the IWDG says a minimum of 16 — a new Irish record — were recorded along the North West coast from Galway to Donegal between 3 and 22 August.

“During the same period, at least 13 were found in Scotland and two in Iceland,” said IWDG strandings officer Mick O’Connell.

“Previous studies have suggested that only a small number of dead animals actually get washed ashore and recorded, so the number of dead animals may be significantly higher.”

While no cause of death has been established, due to the poor condition of the carcasses, it appears that the animals all died around the same time, which “makes causes such as disease, plastic ingestion etc seem unlikely as these would tend to be spread out over a longer time period and perhaps geographical range,” O’Connell said.

“The behaviour and distribution of this species makes large-scale fisheries interaction also seem unlikely.”

Sonar use has been suspected as a cause in previous similar strandings. “Mass strandings of beaked whales coincidental with naval exercises have been recorded in Greece, the Canaries and the Bahamas,” O’Connell said.

According to TheJournal.ie, the Royal Navy denies its use of sonar in training exercises causes any harm to marine wildlife.

The Naval Service in Ireland does not use sonar on its vessels.

In more positive marine mammal news, Nuala Moore writes for Independent.ie about her experiences swimming in Dingle harbour with its longtime resident dolphin Fungie.

The open sea swimming enthusiast made headlines earlier this year for becoming the first Irish woman to swim off Cape Horn.

But in Dingle, she’s just another acquaintance for Fungie in his daily adventures.

Published in Marine Wildlife

#MarineWildlife - Ireland’s annual whale watch day takes place next Saturday 25 August — and the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group invites the public to join its land-based whale watches around the island of Ireland.

From 2pm to 5pm next Saturday, the IWDG’s volunteers will be raising awareness of the 25 species of cetaceans — porpoises, dolphins and whales — recorded to date in all Irish waters, and giving the public a great opportunity to look for and observe some of these wonderful marine mammals in their natural environment.

Whale Watch Ireland also provides IWDG researchers with a unique snapshot of whale and dolphin activity around the Irish coast on the day.

This annual, all-island citizen science event, organised by the IWDG in association with Inis the Energy of the Sea, is free and open to all as part of Heritage Week, co-ordinated by The Heritage Council.

All watches are land-based and will be led by experienced IWDG researchers and whale watchers, who will show you how to observe and identify some of the more commonly recorded cetacean species in Irish waters and who will be available to discuss the conservation work of the IWDG.

To make the most of the day, bring binoculars or a spotting scope, and dress appropriately for outdoor weather conditions. There are no boat trips involved and there is no guarantee that you will see whales or dolphins at your chosen site.

But at last year’s event, whales or dolphins were recorded at three-quarters of sites around the Irish coast.

The full list of watching locations, with watch leader contacts, is as follows:

Published in Marine Wildlife
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#MarineWildlife - Five dead whales have been found along Ireland's west coast and as BBC News reports, they may have been caused by naval sonar, an expert has said.

Dr Simon Berrow, of the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group (IWDG), said the Cuvier's beaked whales' deaths were "highly unusual".

Three of the whales washed ashore in Co. Donegal on 4 August while another was discovered 12 miles off shore.

A beaked whale was also discovered in Co. Mayo on the same day.

Dr Berrow said usually about three strandings of beaked whales were reported in Ireland every year.

For more on this story, click here.

Published in Marine Wildlife
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#OnTV - Be sure to tune in to RTÉ One’s Nationwide tomorrow evening (Monday 30 July) for a special feature on whale watching and the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group’s (IWDG) conservation and research work.

RTÉ filmed with IWDG sightings officer Pádraig Whooley in October 2017 and more recently in mid May of this year, when presenter Anne Cassin and the Nationwide team travelled to West Cork for a day out with Cork Whale Watch.

It proved to be the perfect day for whale watching as the team filmed as many as 30 minke whales, more than 100 common dolphins, and the humpback whale known as HBIRL82.

See the results from 7pm on Monday 30 July on RTÉ One and later on the RTÉ Player.

Published in Maritime TV

#CelticMist - The Celtic Mist’s historic marine wildlife survey voyage to Iceland is complete, with the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group (IWDG) recording nearly 100 sightings over the course of the month.

The research yacht set sail with a crew of wildlife enthusiasts and marine scientists in late May for the 2018 IWDG Humpback Whale Expedition, taking less than a week to cross the North Atlantic to the edge of the Arctic Circle.

Week one began on 31 May on arrival at Vestmannaeyjar in the south, following a clockwise route round to Reykjavik — minke whales, humpbacks and dolphins recorded along the way.

Though sightings were slim in number, the Celtic Mist team hailed “great engagement with both Icelandic people and people from overseas working in Iceland”.

“From the Marine and Freshwater Research Institute to tour operators and guides and visiting scientists, all have given us insights into life in Iceland and whaling and whale-watching issues,” said the IWDG’s Simon Berrow.

Week two was spent amid poor conditions in Iceland’s remote West Fjords — with sea ice and stormy weather keeping the Celtic Mist firmly in part at Isafjordur for the first few days.

But later in the week, patience was rewarded with the sighting of five humpback whales, the majority of a group known to the area but never recorded further south-east in Irish waters.

Week three brought a crew change and a break in the weather allowing passage to the north-west peninsula of Hornstrandir — still a challenge with rolling seas overnight.

“In almost 21 hours of sailing in some of the most productive waters on the planet and in reasonable viewing conditions and 24 hours daylight, we didn’t have a single cetacean sighting,” remarked IWDG sightings officer Pádraig Wholley.

“It would be inconceivable that Celtic Mist would survey for a whole day in Irish waters without a single sighting entry being input into the logger software that we were running throughout.

“This was our first strong evidence that if you want to find marine mammals in Icelandic waters, that open waters may not be the place to be looking.”

Week four took the IWDG to the “poorly surveyed” East Fjords, via the Arctic Circle — in bright midnight sun instead of the common sea fogs. Sightings remained consistent, with no big whales spotted on Iceland’s eastern coast.

The Celtic Mist was due back in Ireland by tomorrow (Friday 13 July) when the mammoth task of sorting through all the recorded data and images begins.

But perhaps the greatest takeaway the voyage is in the connections made with Icelanders around their coastline, suggests Berrow.

“We have achieved all our objectives and built strong links with Iceland and its people. We have discussed fishing, whaling, whale watching and the weather.

“We have a great appreciation of these issues and the differing perspectives and challenges faced which ultimately will be decided by Icelanders.”

Published in Marine Wildlife
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#Biodiversity - Whale watches at Cloghna Head and Loop Head cap off a packed lineup of events for National Biodiversity Week, which began this past weekend.

The nine-day initiative aims to connect people with the natural world and communicate the importance of playing our part in protecting Ireland’s biodiversity — from bat boxes to beekeeping and much more.

Among its own series of events for the week, the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group (IWDG) will be hosting whale watches at Cloghna Head in Co Cork on Saturday 26 May, and Loop Head in Co Clare on Sunday 27 May.

Other marine wildlife related events include a celebration of Lough Foyle’s biodiversity lunchtime today (Tuesday 22 May) at Moville Town Library.

Also happening today is an event hosted by the Dublin Civic Trust on the River Liffey as an important wildlife habitat in the heart of the capital.

See the full list of events on the National Biodiversity Week website HERE.

Published in Marine Wildlife

#MarineWildlife - Galley Head was the place to see Ireland’s biggest recorded gathering of minke whales in recent weeks, as TheJournal.ie reports.

Cork Whale Watch skipper Colin Barnes estimated more than 50 minke whales feeding off the coast of West Cork on Sunday 29 April.

“It is remarkable how the month of April extending into May, which was once considered by us whale watchers to be low season for any species, is rapidly becoming one of the busiest times of the year,” said Pádraig Wholley, sightings officer with the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group (IWDG).

West Cork is also one of the best places in Ireland to see humpback whales, who can count marine wildlife specialist Emer Keaveney among their biggest fans.

The “ambassadors of the world’s oceans” are coming to Irish waters in increasing numbers, as Tom MacSweeney stated earlier today.

And they are also the subject of a groundbreaking expedition to Iceland this summer on board the IWDG’s research vessel Celtic Mist.

Elsewhere, the sighting of a dolphin attacking a porpoise off Scotland could point to increased competition over a food source.

As the Irish Examiner reports, dramatic images captured in the Moray Firth earlier this month were part of a series of ‘unusual’ sightings of bottlenose dolphin attacks.

Published in Marine Wildlife
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#CelticMist - Join the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group at Dublin’s Grand Canal Dock this Sunday 20 May to celebrate before its research vessel Celtic Mist embarks on a historic marine wildlifearine wildlife expedition to Iceland.

As Coast Monkey reports, visitors on the afternoon from 2pm-5pm will have the opportunity to chat with the crew and marine scientists taking part in the 2018 IWDG Humpback Whale Expedition, as well as take a tour of the Celtic Mist before its final fitting in Donegal.

Published in Marine Wildlife
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#MarineWildlife - Amid a flurry of activity off the Bear Peninsula in West Cork last week was the discovery of a new humpback whale visitor to Irish waters.

Using images captured by marine mammal observation officer Patrick Lyne near Inchydoney on Saturday 31 March, the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group was able to confirm it was a small humpback not previously recorded — and it is now the 86th edition of the species to the IWDG’s catalogue.

“In recent years this resource has seen impressive growth, as humpback sightings have outstripped the larger fin whales,” says IWDG sightings officer Pádraig Wholley. “Of particular interest is 2015, when in a single year the number of individuals more than doubled from 30 to 66 animals.”

The IWDG appeals to anyone who has the opportunity to observe or photograph humpback whales this year to pay special attention to ether the ventral flukes or dorsal fins, which can help identify what whales they are and where they might be coming from.

In other cetacean news, BBC News profiles Northern Ireland's only ‘whale listener’, Co Down woman Sharon Doake

Using specialised sonic equipment, Dr Doake's job entails searching for signs of whale and dolphin activity during surveys for offshore oil and gas prospects.

This is particularly important as such seismic surveys can at best scare cetaceans away from their usual feeding grounds, and even potentially cause physical damage.

“It’s not bad to use this equipment but it’s just that we need to mitigate any effect it can have,” she says. BBC News has more on the story HERE.

Published in Marine Wildlife
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Irish Coast Guard

The Irish Coast Guard is Ireland's 4th Blue Light service (along with An Garda Síochána, the Ambulance Service and the Fire Service). It provides a nationwide maritime emergency organisation as well as a variety of services to shipping and other government agencies.

The purpose of the Irish Coast Guard is to promote safety and security standards, and by doing so, prevent as far as possible, the loss of life at sea, and on inland waters, mountains and caves, and to provide effective emergency response services and to safeguard the quality of the marine environment.

The Irish Coast Guard has responsibility for Ireland's system of marine communications, surveillance and emergency management in Ireland's Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) and certain inland waterways.

It is responsible for the response to, and co-ordination of, maritime accidents which require search and rescue and counter-pollution and ship casualty operations. It also has responsibility for vessel traffic monitoring.

Operations in respect of maritime security, illegal drug trafficking, illegal migration and fisheries enforcement are co-ordinated by other bodies within the Irish Government.

Introduction

On average, each year, the Irish Coast Guard is expected to:

  • handle 3,000 marine emergencies
  • assist 4,500 people and save about 200 lives
  • task Coast Guard helicopters on missions around 2000 times (40 times to assist mountain rescues and 200 times to carry out aeromedical HEMS missions on behalf of the HSE), Coast Guard volunteer units will respond 1000 times and RNLI and community lifeboats will be tasked by our Coordination Centres about 950 times
  • evacuate medical patients off our Islands to hospital on 100 occasions
  • assist other nations' Coast Guards about 200 times
  • make around 6,000 maritime safety broadcasts to shipping, fishing and leisure craft users
  • carry out a safety on the water campaign that targets primary schools and leisure craft users, including at sea and beach patrols
  • investigate approximately 50 maritime pollution reports

The Coast Guard has been around in some form in Ireland since 1908.

List of Coast Guard Units in Ireland

  • Achill, Co. Mayo
  • Ardmore, Co. Waterford
  • Arklow, Co. Wicklow
  • Ballybunion, Co. Kerry
  • Ballycotton, Co. Cork
  • Ballyglass, Co. Mayo
  • Bonmahon, Co. Waterford
  • Bunbeg, Co. Donegal
  • Carnsore, Co. Wexford
  • Castlefreake, Co. Cork
  • Castletownbere, Co. Cork
  • Cleggan, Co. Galway
  • Clogherhead, Co. Louth
  • Costelloe Bay, Co. Galway
  • Courtown, Co. Wexford
  • Crosshaven, Co. Cork
  • Curracloe, Co. Wexford
  • Dingle, Co. Kerry
  • Doolin, Co. Clare
  • Drogheda, Co. Louth
  • Dun Laoghaire, Co. Dublin
  • Dunmore East, Co. Waterford
  • Fethard, Co. Wexford
  • Glandore, Co. Cork
  • Glenderry, Co. Kerry
  • Goleen, Co. Cork
  • Greencastle, Co. Donegal
  • Greenore, Co. Louth
  • Greystones, Co. Wicklow
  • Guileen, Co. Cork
  • Howth, Co. Dublin
  • Kilkee, Co. Clare
  • Killala, Co. Mayo
  • Killybegs, Co. Donegal
  • Kilmore Quay, Co. Wexford
  • Knightstown, Co. Kerry
  • Mulroy, Co. Donegal
  • North Aran, Co. Galway
  • Old Head Of Kinsale, Co. Cork
  • Oysterhaven, Co. Cork
  • Rosslare, Co. Wexford
  • Seven Heads, Co. Cork
  • Skerries, Co. Dublin
  • Summercove, Co. Cork
  • Toe Head, Co. Cork
  • Tory Island, Co. Donegal
  • Tramore, Co. Waterford
  • Waterville, Co. Kerry
  • Westport, Co. Mayo
  • Wicklow
  • Youghal, Co. Cork

The roles of the Irish Coast Guard

The main roles of the Irish Coast Guard are to rescue people from danger at sea or on land, to organise immediate medical transport and to assist boats and ships within the country's jurisdiction.

Each year the Irish Coast Guard co-ordinates the response to thousands of incidents at sea and on the cliffs and beaches of Ireland. It does this through its Marine Rescue Centres which are currently based in:

  • Dublin
  • Malin Head (Co Donegal)
  • Valentia Island (Co Kerry).

Each centre is responsible for search and rescue operations.

The Dublin National Maritime Operations Centre (NMOC) provides marine search and rescue response services and co-ordinates the response to marine casualty incidents within the Irish Pollution Responsibility Zone/EEZ.

The Marine Rescue Sub Centre (MRSC) Valentia and MRSC Malin Head are 24/7 centres co-ordinating search and rescue response in their areas of responsibility.

The Marine Rescue Sub Centre (MRSC) Valentia is the contact point for routine operational matters in the area between Ballycotton and Clifden.

MRSC Malin Head is the contact point for routine operational matters in the area between Clifden and Lough Foyle.

MRCC Dublin is the contact point for routine operational matters in the area between Carlingford Lough and Ballycotton.

Each MRCC/MRSC broadcasts maritime safety information on VHF and, in some cases, MF radio in accordance with published schedules.

Maritime safety information that is broadcast by the three Marine Rescue Sub-centres includes:

  • navigational warnings as issued by the UK Hydrographic Office
  • gale warnings, shipping forecasts, local inshore forecasts, strong wind warnings and small craft warnings as issued by the Irish Meteorological Office.

Coast Guard helicopters

The Irish Coast Guard has contracted five medium-lift Sikorsky Search and Rescue helicopters deployed at bases in Dublin, Waterford, Shannon and Sligo.

The helicopters are designated wheels up from initial notification in 15 minutes during daylight hours and 45 minutes at night. One aircraft is fitted and its crew trained for under slung cargo operations up to 3000kgs and is available on short notice based at Waterford.

These aircraft respond to emergencies at sea, inland waterways, offshore islands and mountains of Ireland (32 counties).

They can also be used for assistance in flooding, major inland emergencies, intra-hospital transfers, pollution, and aerial surveillance during daylight hours, lifting and passenger operations and other operations as authorised by the Coast Guard within appropriate regulations.

The Coast Guard can contract specialised aerial surveillance or dispersant spraying aircraft at short notice internationally.

Helicopter tasks include:

  • the location of marine and aviation incident survivors by homing onto aviation and marine radio distress transmissions, by guidance from other agencies, and by visual, electronic and electro-optical search
  • the evacuation of survivors from the sea, and medical evacuees from all manner of vessels including high-sided passenger and cargo vessels and from the islands
  • the evacuation of personnel from ships facing potential disaster
  • search and or rescue in mountainous areas, caves, rivers, lakes and waterways
  • the transport of offshore fire-fighters (MFRTs) or ambulance teams (MARTs) and their equipment following a request for assistance
  • the provision of safety cover for other search and rescue units including other Marine Emergency Service helicopters
  • pollution, casualty and salvage inspections and surveillance and the transport of associated personnel and equipment
  • inter-agency training in all relevant aspects of the primary role
  • onshore emergency medical service, including evacuation and air ambulance tasks
  • relief of the islands and of areas suffering from flooding or deep snow

The secondary roles of the helicopter are:

  • the exercise of the primary search, rescue and evacuation roles in adjacent search and rescue regions
  • assistance to onshore emergency services, such as in the evacuation of high-rise buildings
  • public safety awareness displays and demonstrations
  • providing helicopter expertise for seminars and training courses

The Irish Coast Guard provides aeronautical assets for search and rescue in the mountains of Ireland. Requests for Irish Coast Guard assets are made to the Marine Rescue Centres.

Requests are accepted from An Garda Síochána and nominated persons in Mountain Rescue Teams.

Information courtesy of Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport (July 2019)

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