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#MarineWildlife - The Irish Whale and Dolphin Group (IWDG) has reiterated the need for localised stranding plans after the death of two common dolphins that stranded in Mayo's Blacksod Bay in late July.

Aoife Foley of the IWDG writes that the two dolphins were part of a pod of five that were spotted close to the shore at Mullaghroe Beach on Saturday 23 July.

A team from the Broadhaven Bay Marine Mammal Monitoring Programme joined local marine biologist Machiel Oudejans to move the dolphins, which did not appear to be injured or in obviously poor health, back into deeper waters and out to sea.

However, the following afternoon a member of the programme team saw that two of the marine mammals had stranded on the same stretch of beach, which Foley says is "notorious for common dolphin strandings in Blacksod Bay".

Despite best efforts, by Tuesday 26 July one of the animals had died and the other had to be put down by the National Parks and Wildlife Service.

The IWDG has more on the story HERE.

Published in Marine Wildlife

#MarineWildlife - A number of dead minke whales found off the Dingle Peninsula in recent months have puzzled locals and experts alike, as TheJournal.ie reports.

The carcasses of three juvenile minkes have been spotted in the region since April, comprising 25% of all Irish minke whale standings since records began in 2000.

A fourth whale carcass was found on the shore at Killough in Co Down last week, according to BBC News.

But no one seems to know the reasons for these marine wildlife deaths, with the lack of a post-mortem scheme for whale strandings making matters even cloudier.

Mick O’Connell, strandings co-ordinator of the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group (IWDG), believes the phenomenon is localised to the Dingle Bay area.

Yet while the species is a regular visitor to the Blasket Islands and environs, O'Connell says it's "very unusual to have so many dead ones in the one small area, in the space of 10 or 12 weeks."

The same region also saw a number of unsubstantiated dolphin deaths in recent weeks, which one fishery expert suggested might be connected with the presence of so-called 'supertrawlers' fishing in the area.

Similar concerns were raised earlier in the year when a spike in common dolphin standings, primarily in the North West – totalling 28 for January and February alone – coincided with reports of supertrawler activity off the Dongeal, Sligo and Mayo coasts.

Published in Marine Wildlife

#WhaleWatchDay - The 2016 All Island Whale Watch Day takes place on Saturday 27 August as part of Heritage Week.

All are invited to join the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group (IWDG) at any of 20 land-based whale watches on headlands around the Irish coast from 2pm-5pm on the day.

The purpose of Whale Watch Ireland is to raise awareness of the 25 species of cetaceans – whales, dolphins and porpoises – recorded to date in Irish waters, by providing the opportunity to see them in their natural environment.

The event also provides IWDG researchers with a unique snapshot of cetacean activity off the Irish coast.

Though sightings can't be guaranteed, the early arrival of humpback whales among others this year is surely a good omen, especially for those along the south coast between West Cork and Wexford.

And with three-quarters of sites reporting whale or dolphin sightings on last year's Whale Watch Day, the odds are good for next month.

No prior experience is necessary as IWDG volunteers will be on hand to show you how to observe our biggest marine wildlife.

Anyone who wants to come out on the day should bring binoculars or a spotting scope, and dress appropriately for what can be very changeable outdoor conditions.

Details of the 20 headland watch sites are listed below; contact the relevant local organiser for more details or if you wish to help out on the day:

  • Clogherhead, Co Louth - Port Oriel Upper Car Park - Breffni Martin, 087 914 5363
  • Howth Head, North Co Dublin - Balscadden Car Park - Conal O’ Flanagan, 086 353 7900
  • Killiney Bay, South Co Dublin - Vico Road - Brian Glanville, 087 139 0665
  • Bray Head, Co Wicklow - Pitch & Putt - Justin Ivory, 087 683 3898
  • Hook Head, Co Wexford - Lighthouse - Harm Deenen, 086 348 5013
  • Ardmore, Co Waterford - Ram Head Signal Tower - Andrew Malcolm, 087 795 2061
  • Galley Head, Co Cork - Lighthouse - Pádraig Whooley, 086 385 0568
  • Hog’s Head, Co Kerry - Sea Synergy Centre, Waterville - Lucy Hunt, 087 785 0929
  • Valentia Island, Co Kerry - Bray Head Signal Tower - Sean O’Callaghan, 085 776 4918
  • Clogher Head, Co Kerry - Lay-by - Nick Massett, 087 673 6341
  • Loop Head, Co Clare - Lighthouse - Simon Berrow, 086 854 5450
  • Black Head, North Co Clare - Lighthouse - Sandra O’Donovan, 086 606 1869
  • Downpatrick Head, Co Mayo - Car park - Aoife Foley, 085 827 6984
  • Mullaghmore Head, Co Sligo - Lay-by - Miriam Crowley, 087 617 1377
  • Bloody Foreland, Co Donegal - Heights Bar car park - Gareth Doherty, 086 222 3328
  • Malin Head, Co Donegal - Signal Tower - Ronan McLaughlin, 086 389 3154
  • Ramore Head, Co Antrim - Portrush Coastal Zone - Jim Allen, 078 765 16032
  • Portmuck, Co Antrim - Car park - Ian Enlander, 028 933 72724
  • Bloody Bridge, Co Down - Car park - Dave Wall, 077 717 62355
Published in Marine Wildlife

#BowheadWhale - The search continues in tracking down the elusive bowhead whale that's excited marine wildlife experts since it was sighted in Carlingford Lough at the weekend.

One of a species never before recorded in Irish waters in the 25 years since the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group (IWDG) was formed, the 20ft juvenile whale was photographed from a pilot boat at the mouth of the lough at the Helly Hunter Rocks on Sunday 29 May.

It's thought that it may be the same individual from the arctic species spotted off Cornwall in mid May, following a previous bowhead sighting at the Scilly Isles in February.

The Celtic Mist joined the hunt yesterday (Tuesday 31 May) on its circumnavigation of Ireland and failed to make any sighting, though bowhead whales are known for being difficult to spot due to their lack of a dorsal fin.

The IWDG has much more on this story HERE.

Published in Marine Wildlife

#MarineWildlife - Places are going fast for a special cruise on board the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group's Celtic Mist to celebrate the 25th anniversary of Ireland's whale and dolphin sanctuary.

Celtic Mist will depart Fenit, Co Kerry next Saturday 7 May with a team of IWDG members and marine science experts on an almost three-month circumnavigation of Ireland, first heading north along the Wild Atlantic Way and around to the Irish Sea, calling on Dublin on 7 June to mark the 25th anniversary of the Irish Government's official declaration of this island's waters as a sanctuary for cetaceans.

The declaration came only three months after it was proposed by the then newly formed IWDG, and both have been instrumental in raising awareness of the bounty of marine wildlife in Irish waters.

Though berths on the voyage are filling fast, everyone will have the opportunity to participate by assisting in outreach events along the cruise route, or by tracking its progress online. Details on how to get involved can be found on the IWDG website HERE.

Along the way passengers on Celtic Mist may be treated to some of the incredible wildlife the sanctuary was created to protect, such as humpback whales – a number of which were spotted on an early visit to West Kerry earlier this month, likely attracted by schools of sand eels, as the IWDG reports.

In other marine wildlife news, locals near a beach close to Ballyshannon in Co Donegal have complained after a whale carcass was left rotting on rocks three days after it was reported to authorities.

According to the Irish Mirror, successive high tides had failed to shift the 25ft minke whale, though Donegal County Council says it is arranging for the animal's disposal.

Published in Marine Wildlife

#BaskingSharks - Conservationist Andrew Power was in the right place at the right time on Monday morning (11 April) when he witnessed a group of up to 20 basking sharks feeding off Kilkee, Co Clare.

"You could see the inside of their huge mouths very clearly under the water as they were feeding," Power told RTÉ News of the three-hour breakfast. "They swam close to the rocks going in circles. It was incredible."



The Irish Whale and Dolphin Group (IWDG) reports that another sighting was made at the same time off Slea Head in Co Kerry – adding to a list of inshore sightings along the South West coast since 31 March, when the first basking shark spotting of 2016 was reported off West Cork.

Regular visitors to our shores, the second largest fish in the ocean were last seen in numbers back in September, as previously reported on Afloat.ie.

And the sheer size of this group is surely a boost for the 'shark park' initiative mooted for the Wild Atlantic Way last summer.

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

Voyages out as far as the edge of the Continental Shelf on the Atlantic Ocean has produced rare sightings for the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group and this August there is a chance to see the join the crew and see the whales again writes Patrick Lyne

Back in 2012 when the Celtic Mist became available to the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group we were looking at ways the boat could be used to support the work the Group does and demonstrate to people in Ireland the wealth of life that exists in Irish waters. So for three years from 2012 to 2014 we took the Celtic Mist to the shelf edge in early September. Indeed we were blessed when first arriving on the shelf edge only to be greeted by two blue whales. It took several minutes in close proximity (200m) to the whales before we believed our eyes. We had expected large whales but not those to be waiting for us. They stayed around and passed either side of the boat moving from port to starboard for what seemed like an age, before moving further away. We could manage a top speed of maybe 8 knots while blue whales could travel at up to 25 knots approximately and there was no way we could keep pace with these animals if they decided to leave us behind.

Shortly afterwards the Irish Air Corps Casa (C253) appeared and called on the radio and managed to get some excellent shots of both the Celtic Mist and the blue whales.

blue whales Porcupine SeabightTwo blue whales in the Porcupine Seabight 60 miles off the Irish coast (Photo coutesy of Irish Air Corps)

In 2013 had some remarkable sightings of beaked whales again in the Porcupine Seabight and while unable to confirm that the animals that passed close to the vessel in 2013, were True’s beaked whales, it seems highly probable that they were. Beaked whales are particularly difficult to study being adverse to noise and spending large periods of time underwater. The Cuvier’s beaked whale holds the record for the longest recorded dive of any cetacean of 2 hours 17 minutes while attaining a depth of 2,992m. These animals are rarely seen close to shore and when they are, they often end up stranding and dying. The deep ocean off the shelf edge is their natural habitat.

Each year has produced it’s own spectcular moments and the humpback whales off Dingle have become more and more reliable and are a feature of our trips every year. Last year we were treated to one beautiful day on the shelf edge with calm weather. It is this calm weather that always produces the best results. While whales numbers wer not spectacular they were considerable and most if not all animals were engaged in feeding. We simply allowed the boat to drift while fin whales fed in close proimity to the boat and we could see the huge jaws opening to envelope the krill underwater.

Last year we changed vessels to Jessy of Adrigole a 37 ft–yacht, the Celtic Mist being unavailable and this year we have decided to continue using Jessy but for a longer trip. We propose starting in Castletownbere and sailing to Camaret in Brittany along the shelf edge. The shelf edge between here and Brittany is some of the most dramatic in the world with drop offs from 200m down to nearly 4000m. The EEZ of the UK is slowly squeezed such that French and Irish waters will eventually meet as boundaries extend.

It is more important than ever to record the variety and abundance of Ireland’s offshore environment. While oil exploration will suffer from the current over supply, exploration rights has been granted to both Russia and France by the International Seabed Authority (ISA – not the Irish Sailing Association but a UN body based in Jamaica) in the mid-Atlantic Ridge in the North Atlantic. The marine environment is constantly under greater and greater pressure. Protection for cetaceans is critical to mainting the entire marine habitat. Reduction in large whale numbers in the Southern Ocean due to whaling did not result in an increase in their favourite prey, krill, but rather reduced krill abundance. Whale faeces enriches the ocean with iron, producing plankton blooms which start the food chain and absorb excess carbon from the atmosphere. The South West in particualr sees large numbers of tuna arrive in August and September, follwoed by French and Spanish and Irish fishing vessel as well as whales. It is important for the whales that they are able to build blubber reserves at this time, especially for the females as without sufficient reserves to sustain them during pregnancy of 11 or 12 months, the whale will abort. Recovery rates are slow with these large whales and even with protection it will be manay many decades before fin and blue whale numbers reach pre-whaling levels.

Fin whale feeding
Fin whale feeding Porcupine Seabight (Photo – Patrick Lyne IWDG)

In August we will embark again to try and find calm weather on the shelf edge and hope to add significantly to the picture of cetaceans in Irish waters in a time when they are at their most abundant. It is a unique opportunity for people to become involved with our marine mega fauna in a way not available elsewhere and to add to knowledge of the area. The charge to crew of €1310 allows the work to take place and is an enriching experience and an education. If interested contact Patrick Lyne by email ([email protected]).

Published in Marine Wildlife

#MarineWildlife - A research paper produced in a joint project by the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group (IWDG) and the Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology (GMIT) was cited by an expert panel that has struck down Japan's plans to resume whaling in the Southern Ocean.

As the Guardian reports, the International Whaling Committee (IWC) panel said Japan's revised programme did to have enough detail to determine whether it needed to hunt whales in order to, as per its reasons, measure population sizes ahead of any return to commercial whaling, or gain "a better understanding of the Antarctic marine ecosystem".

"The current proposal does not demonstrate the need for lethal sampling to achieve those objectives," said the IWC experts' report.

The IWDG-GMIT paper lead authored by Dr Conor Ryan and published in Marine Ecology Progress Series in 2013, which details the collection of relevant data from live biopsy tissue samples, was cited by the experts as evidence contrary to Japan's assertions.

Japan was forced to revise its whaling programme in the face of controversy last year after the International Court of Justice ruled it was not whaling for scientific research purposes.

The IWDG says that the IWC's report "endorses the internationally significant work being carried out in Ireland and shows how this information can be used to inform important management decisions such as that offered by the IWC Expert Panel."

Other recent research work conducted by the IWDG includes a visual and acoustic survey of cetaceans during the annual Marine Institute bus whiting survey, and a review of the National Parks and Wildlife Service's National Cetacean Protection Strategy.

Published in Marine Wildlife

#MarineWildlife - The Irish Whale and Dolphin Group (IWDG) hosts its annual general meeting at the Best Western Plus Academy Plaza Hotel at the top of O'Connell Street in Dublin tomorrow 8 November 2014.

The event, which kicks off at 2pm, is open to all IWDG members (with voting on proposals for members of at least six months' standing) and will provide an opportunity for people to learn more about the marine wildlife charity's work, and how to get more involved.

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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