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A whale species never before recorded in Irish waters has been confirmed by the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group (IWDG).

The marine wildlife specimen reported at Glengarriff in West Cork on 1 May — which live-stranded before it was found dead the following day — is that of a dwarf sperm whale, IWDG strandings officer Stephanie Levesque said.

Video footage received of the whale was shared with international experts “who confirmed that in their opinion it was a dwarf sperm whale due to its taller dorsal fin and smaller back”.

Levesque acknowledged concerns over the distress of the animal in the supplied video but said that “there is nothing [anyone] could have done as it was thrashing violently on slippery, seaweed covered rocks … It is extremely important to understand, if you see a stranded animal thrashing violently in this way, as difficult as it is to watch, you must keep your distance.”

The 2.25-metre female whale was with calf when it died, and a post-mortem by Drs Jim Donovan and Mercedes Gomez-Parada at the Cork Regional Vet Lab could not confirm the cause of death.

Examining the carcass of the dwarf sperm whale, a 2.5m pregnant female | Credit: Simon BerrowExamining the carcass of the dwarf sperm whale, a 2.25m pregnant female | Credit: Simon Berrow

“Prey remains, including squid beaks, were found in its stomach which was recovered together with the whole intestine for further analysis,” Levesque added. “The skeleton will be prepared by the IWDG and donated to the National Museum of Ireland (Natural History) to be preserved by the State.”

Meanwhile, genetic testing of a skin sample was performed by Dr Eileen Dillane, a geneticist at UCC’s School of Biological, Earth and Environmental Sciences, who identified a 99% match with the genes of dwarf sperm whales from the Western North Atlantic.

The last known record of a dwarf sperm whale in this part of the world was a sighting off Cornwall in the UK in October 2011.

“Whether we might expect more strandings of this ‘warm water’ species in Ireland and the UK following the impacts of climate change remains to be seen, but it is very important to continue to report stranded cetaceans to the IWDG so we can monitor these trends into the future,” Levesque said.

This was the second animal to be examined under the new Deep-Diving and Rare Cetacean Investigation Programme (DDRIP) launched by the IWDG recently.

Published in Marine Wildlife
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Photos taken off the Azores in recent days show that a white humpback whale mother and calf may be among the marine wildlife species’ annual migration to the North Atlantic.

And that means whale watchers in Ireland may have a chance to see this rare occurrence this summer, if we’re lucky.

The Irish Whale and Dolphin Group (IWDG) said on social media: “They were traveling northwest along the coastline of the island, but she was not certain whether they were heading south or north.

“In that case, we ask all whale watchers to keep their eyes (scopes, cameras) open for them.”

According to Whale Watch Azores, the adult albino humpback seems to be a well-travelled animal, matching a sighting 10 years ago off Svalbard in the far north of Norway – and may also be the same white whale that’s been spotted off Guadeloupe in the Caribbean.

Published in Marine Wildlife
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More than 100 basking sharks were spotted in the waters off Hook Head in Co Wexford last week as their season for 2022 starts “with a bang”, as the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group reports.

A member of the public, Charlie O’Malley observed the massive congregation of the ocean’s second largest fish last Thursday (24 March) just six-to-eight miles southwest of Hook Head.

Not only were they great in number, but in size too — with O’Malley estimating many larger specimens of the marine wildlife giant of over 20ft in length.

“We have no reason to doubt the veracity of this report,” said IWDG sightings officer Pádraig Whooley. “Charlie hails from Achill Island and basking sharks are a species that run in his blood.”

Whooley said this “incredible kick-start” to the 2022 basking shark season follows a “good year” for sightings in 2021, with 161 validated by the IWDG — though the peak was between 2009 and 2011 when an average of more than 200 per annum were validated.

Sightings have also come in from Inis Mór in the Aran Islands and Baltimore in West Cork, and more are expected in the coming weeks — not least because these sharks have been in the news recently owing to their newly gained legal protection under the Wildlife Act, as reported on Afloat.ie.

Listen to to Tom MacSweeney's podcast with IWDG's Simon Berrow and also Charlie O’Malley here

Published in Marine Wildlife
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The Irish Whale and Dolphin Group (IWDG) has confirmed the sighting of a common dolphin in the River Liffey at the weekend.

According to TheJournal.ie, the marine mammal was spotted swimming near the Poolbeg power plant on Saturday morning (12 March) before it headed out further into Dublin Bay.

IWDG sightings officer Padraig Whooley told TheJournal.ie: “This is only the second time IWDG has confirmed a sighting of a common dolphin in the Liffey system, so it is an unusual record.”

Previously a common dolphin wowed early morning city-goers when it swam up the Liffey as far as the Loopline Bridge in November 2018, as reported on Afloat.ie.

Published in Marine Wildlife

The Irish Whale and Dolphin Group (IWDG) says it’s clarified its opinion on recent whale strandings in Donegal, explaining that the evidence does not suggest an “unusual mortality event” or UME.

It has been feared the strandings of two female sperm whales — at Maghery and on Malin Head respectively — were linked to Russian military exercises in the North Atlantic, as Afloat.ie reported last weekend.

But upon reviewing the data of marine wildlife strandings on the Irish coast between 15 and 21 February, including a female Cuvier’s beaked whale and a female long-finned pilot whale, the IWDG says that the incidents do not deviate from the expected annual stranding figures.

“Before any claims can be made calling this a UME or linking these current deaths to the military testing, additional evidence is needed,” IWDG strandings officer Stephanie Levesque said.

“We must wait to see if any further deep diving species wash up over the next few weeks as these numbers themselves currently are not out of the ordinary.”

However, Levesque added: “Two female sperm whales washed up at the same time is unexpected as most stranded sperm whales in Ireland are mature males.”

Meanwhile, it’s believed that “souvenir hunters” may be responsible for removing jaw bones from the two female whales washed ashore in Donegal.

Levesque told Donegal Live that such practice is common but it’s not known why.

“I don't know who does, but it is something that happens with sperm whales when they strand — the lower jaw is the first thing to go,” she said. “I don’t know if people think they are worth something.”

Donegal Live has more on the story HERE.

Published in Marine Wildlife
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It’s feared that at least one whale stranded in Donegal in recent days may have died as a result of Russian military exercises in the North Atlantic.

According to The Irish Sun, a marine wildlife expert investigating the stranding of a female whale at Maghery on Wednesday (16 February) said it appeared “deflated” and that its internal organs had “liquefied”.

Stephanie Levesque, a strandings officer with the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group (IWDG), noted that it is not yet confirmed how recently the animal died but said: “We can’t rule anything out at this point.”

It’s understood that sperm whales, which can dive as much as 800 metres in search of food, can risk their lives by surfacing too fast when disturbed by sonar often employed by military vessels.

But disturbances caused by this week’s double whammy of Storm Dudley and Storm Eunice may have played a significant role.

A second sperm whale found at Malin Head on Thursday (17 February) was also deemed unusual.

Commenting on social media, the Ocean Research and Conservation Association (ORCA) Ireland said: “What stood out was this animals teeth were very worn! Sperm [whales] are the largest toothed predator in the world.”

Before Russia agreed to move its planned military exercises out of Ireland’s Exclusive Economic Zone, Minister of State for Heritage Malcolm Noonan warned that the activity could have “devastating consequences” for marine mammals in the area.

Such concerns prompted the IWDG to back the call from the fishing industry for a moratorium on any and all military exercises within the Irish EEZ.

Published in Marine Wildlife

The Irish Whale and Dolphin Group (IWDG) says it supports the call for a moratorium on military exercises within Ireland’s Exclusive Economic Zone.

Both the Irish South and West Fish Producers’ Organisation (IS&WFPO) and the Irish Fish Processors and Exporters Association (IFPEA) have appealed for the Government to introduce a 10-year halt on any future manoeuvres within the area, according to The Skipper.

It follows Russia’s decision, as a “gesture of goodwill”, to relocate live-fire drills that had been planned for this week in international waters but within the Irish EEZ, some 240km off the Cork coast.

The outcome was hailed as a victory for diplomacy on the part of Ireland’s fishing industry, with the EU fisheries commissioner paying tribute at the weekend.

There had been fears of confrontation between Irish trawlers and Russian naval vessels in the Atlantic as long-standing fishing grounds on the continental shelf adjoin the area previously earmarked for the military exercises.

“I think the Russian have set a precedent now…that we need to bring in a 10-year moratorium to stop all military exercises in the Irish EEZ,” IFPEA chief executive Brendan Byrne told Highland Radio.

“We can’t bring in an outright ban [due to international law] but we have have the right…to bring in the moratorium based on the eco-sensitivity of the area, based on the biological importance of it to [the] sea fishery which is mackerel, in this case, or nephrops and the entire environmental argument, notwithstanding the displacement of fishing.”

The IWDG said it supports fishers’ right “to work without feeling threatened by military exercises” and that “additionally such a moratorium would also greatly reduce the threat these exercises pose to whales and dolphins”.

It added: “While on this occasion the Russian navy notified the State of their intentions, UK and NATO vessels regularly carry out naval exercises within the Irish EEZ.

“They have also been known to use active sonar within the Irish EEZ and such events have been linked to the mass mortality of deep-diving whale species in Irish waters, most recently in 2018 with an unusual mortality event of Cuvier’s beaked whales in Ireland and Scotland.

“Mass strandings and inshore sightings of northern bottlenose whales and Sowerby’s beaked whales, which occurred in 2020, may also have been linked to naval activity.”

In light of this, the IWDG is “proposing four additional Marine Protected Areas for deep-diving cetaceans along the slopes of the Rockall Canyon, Porcupine Seabight and Whittard Canyon System”.

The marine wildlife charity also expressed its fears that the Northeast Atlantic “has become a global hotspot” for beaked whale strandings, which appear to be increasing in both magnitude and frequency”.

It adds: “Given the vulnerability of beaked whales to underwater noise, supported by significant advances in our understanding of the impacts of military sonar on these animals, it appears ever more likely that military sonars used in or adjacent to important beaked whale habitats are a significant factor in these mortalities.”

Meanwhile, concerns remain among environmentalists for marine wildlife in the vicinity of wherever Russia moves its planned naval and air force drills.

Speaking to Claire Byrne on RTÉ Radio 1’s Today programme, Ken O’Sullivan, the documentary maker behind Ireland’s Deep Atlantic, said: “Exploding bombs in the ocean is never a good thing to do, for many reasons.”

RTÉ Radio 1 has the full interview HERE.

Published in Fishing
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Irish fishing crews are planning to peacefully disrupt the planned Russian military exercise off the Cork coast next month, as RTÉ News reports.

Patrick Murphy, chief executive of the Irish South and West Fish Producers Organisation, said he told an official at the Russian Embassy that Irish crews “will be fishing in our traditional fishing areas and if this has an impact on their exercise this would be considered a peaceful protest”.

As previously reported on Afloat.ie, concerns have been raised over the Russian missile tests that are being planned for international waters in the Atlantic some 240km off Co Cork but within Ireland’s Exclusive Economic Zone.

Speaking to RTÉ's Morning Ireland this morning (Tuesday 25 January), Murphy added that the waters in question represent “a very important ground where fish come to spawn” and among other concerns noted the risk to fishing gear posed by any submarines that might accompany the Russian fleet.

“We should be entitled to go fishing there, and if we’re fishing there then these boats, these warships shouldn’t be having war games,” he said.

Meanwhile, the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group (IWDG) says it has written to Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney to express concern over the potential impact of the significant military exercise by the Russian navy and air force on marine wildlife in the area.

“Military exercises, especially the use of active sonar, are known to have a potentially huge impact on marine mammals, especially deep-diving species,” the group says.

“We are especially concerned as the slopes off the southwest including Goban Spur/Whittard Canyon are known to be important habitats for a range of deep-diving species” such as sperm whale, fin whales and Cuvier’s beaked whales, it adds.

Published in Naval Visits
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The Irish Whale and Dolphin Group (IWDG) has appealed for the public to keep a look-out after a spate of marine wildlife strandings reported in recent days.

Half of the six reports were live strandings, the group says, but only one animal was successfully returned to the water.

In Galway, a common dolphin live stranded with serious injuries but died shortly after IWDG members arrived at the scene.

Another common dolphin live stranded at Mulranny in Co Mayo. Local woman Catherine Hanley, who reported the stranding, managed to refloat this dolphin with her group and it has not been seen since.

In Co Donegal, a “very emaciated” Cuvier’s beaked whale live stranded at Dooey Beach in Downings, on the Rosguill peninsula, but died shortly after.

An emaciated Cuvier’s beaked whale live stranded on Dooey Beach in Downings. The deep-ocean species has a significant population near Irish waters but is rarely sightedAn emaciated Cuvier’s beaked whale live stranded on Dooey Beach in Downings. The deep-ocean species has a significant population near Irish waters but is rarely sighted

Elsewhere, the remains of three more cetaceans were reported around the coast in recent days.

In Rathmullen, Co Donegal, the carcass of a common dolphin appears to match video of a dolphin swimming in the area the previous day, suggesting a live stranding.

At Greenore in Co Louth, at the mouth of Carlingford Lough, a common dolphin in “very fresh condition” was reported to the local IWDG group.

And in Passage East, Co Waterford, a carcass in “very poor” condition has been logged as “dolphin species” as its advanced state of composition made further identification impossible.

The IWDG appeals for the public to report all strandings “so we respond immediately and monitor the status of our whales and dolphins”.

Published in Marine Wildlife

The first case of a grey seal predation on a harbour porpoise in Irish waters has been confirmed, the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group (IWDG) says.

Video of the incident off Clogherhead in Co Louth on Sunday 14 November was submitted to the marine wildlife charity. It appears to show an adult grey seal with a porpoise calf in its mouth and attempting to drown its victim before feeding on it.

Sightings officer Pádraig Whooley said there was “little doubt” as to what was occurring in the footage, which can be seen below. Some viewers may find the video disturbing:

Andy Smith, who was fishing on the pier in Clogherhead when he shot the video, said: “We initially saw the mother and baby about 200m out to sea but about 20 minutes later the seal surfaced with the baby porpoise in its mouth.

“It was quite violent and bloody. Thankfully there were no kids around to witness it. Nature raw in tooth and claw I suppose.”

Whooley added that the incident, while rare, is not without precedent. A paper published in the journal Marine Mammal Science in 2014 offered the first evidence of grey seal predation on harbour porpoise in the English Channel and North Sea.

“However, this behaviour has never before been documented in Irish waters, which is surprising given the large populations we have of both coastal species,” he said.

The incident now opens questions as to whether this is indeed new behaviour from an Irish seal “or one that has simply never before been witnessed or recorded in Ireland”.

In addition, it is not confirmed whether the seal in the video is from an Irish resident population or one that travelled here from the North Sea area.

Whooley also posits: “What are the likely implications at population level for the resident harbour porpoises of Clogherhead and beyond? Especially given that areas like north Co Dublin have some of the highest densities of porpoises in Irish waters.”

Published in Marine Wildlife
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The Half Ton Class was created by the Offshore Racing Council for boats within the racing band not exceeding 22'-0". The ORC decided that the rule should "....permit the development of seaworthy offshore racing yachts...The Council will endeavour to protect the majority of the existing IOR fleet from rapid obsolescence caused by ....developments which produce increased performance without corresponding changes in ratings..."

When first introduced the IOR rule was perfectly adequate for rating boats in existence at that time. However yacht designers naturally examined the rule to seize upon any advantage they could find, the most noticeable of which has been a reduction in displacement and a return to fractional rigs.

After 1993, when the IOR Mk.III rule reached it termination due to lack of people building new boats, the rule was replaced by the CHS (Channel) Handicap system which in turn developed into the IRC system now used.

The IRC handicap system operates by a secret formula which tries to develop boats which are 'Cruising type' of relatively heavy boats with good internal accommodation. It tends to penalise boats with excessive stability or excessive sail area.

Competitions

The most significant events for the Half Ton Class has been the annual Half Ton Cup which was sailed under the IOR rules until 1993. More recently this has been replaced with the Half Ton Classics Cup. The venue of the event moved from continent to continent with over-representation on French or British ports. In later years the event is held biennially. Initially, it was proposed to hold events in Ireland, Britain and France by rotation. However, it was the Belgians who took the ball and ran with it. The Class is now managed from Belgium. 

At A Glance – Half Ton Classics Cup Winners

  • 2017 – Kinsale – Swuzzlebubble – Phil Plumtree – Farr 1977
  • 2016 – Falmouth – Swuzzlebubble – Greg Peck – Farr 1977
  • 2015 – Nieuwport – Checkmate XV – David Cullen – Humphreys 1985
  • 2014 – St Quay Portrieux – Swuzzlebubble – Peter Morton – Farr 1977
  • 2013 – Boulogne – Checkmate XV – Nigel Biggs – Humphreys 1985
  • 2011 – Cowes – Chimp – Michael Kershaw – Berret 1978
  • 2009 – Nieuwpoort – Général Tapioca – Philippe Pilate – Berret 1978
  • 2007 – Dun Laoghaire – Henri-Lloyd Harmony – Nigel Biggs – Humphreys 1980~
  • 2005 – Dinard – Gingko – Patrick Lobrichon – Mauric 1968
  • 2003 – Nieuwpoort – Général Tapioca – Philippe Pilate – Berret 1978

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