Displaying items by tag: Whales
Until now, the only information on the diet of large baleen whales such as fin, humpback and minke whales in Irish waters, was gathered in 1913 by a Mr Burfield in Belmullet, Co Mayo where two whaling stations were operated by a Norwegian enterprise at the time. These whaling stations caught mostly fin whales as they migrated along the shelf edge close to Co. Mayo. Two new studies published in Marine Ecology Progress Series and Marine Mammal Science used stable isotopes and mixed modelling to reveal the diet of fin and humpback whales in Ireland.
Following regular sightings of fin, humpback and minke whales close to shore over the last 10-15 years there has been a resurgence of interest in whales in Irish waters. From June to February between Slea Head, Co. Kerry and Hook Head, Co. Wexford, fin and humpback whales appear to follow the seasonal movements of sprat and herring as they congregate inshore to spawn. The Irish Whale and Dolphin Group (IWDG), Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology and the Marine Institute collaborated on a project to determine what these whales were feeding on – essential information if we are to adopt a more sustainable 'ecosystem approach' to managing our fisheries. This ecosystem approach recognises that there are predators, other than humans in the marine ecosystem, which are entitled to marine resources and that these are an integral link in a complex food web which needs to be kept intact for the health of our oceans and for the benefit of our coastal communities.
Studying the diet of large whales is challenging. They cover vast distances and dive for up to 15 minutes at a time, and despite their huge size (fin whales up to 21m) they are difficult to follow and observe in the rough seas around Ireland. When they die and strand, it is difficult to obtain stomach samples before the carcase heats up with decay and quickly rots. At any rate, most of the stomach samples from dead whales are empty as these individuals tend to be sick. An alternative approach to investigating their diet was needed and this study used stable isotope analysis. The field of stable isotope analysis is rapidly becoming an essential tool for all scientists to trace food-webs and to follow ecosystem nutrient cycling in marine systems. In a novel way, this enables researchers infer information on their origins and dietary influences.
Skin samples were collected from fin and humpback whales using biopsy darts fired from a cross-bow. For the past decade, the IWDG Large Whale survey team has been conducting this field work during autumn and winter when the whales are close inshore in large numbers. They used local whale-watching boats or the IWDG rigid-hulled inflatable boat Muc Mhara to get close enough to the whales to dart them and photograph unique markings to help identify individual whales. This work was licensed by the National Parks and Wildlife Service. Chemical tracers, in this case stable carbon and nitrogen isotopes, in the skin of the whales were analysed. These same chemical signatures were measured in samples from sprat, herring and various krill species of different age classes, collected during annual fisheries surveys from the Marine Institute's R.V. Celtic Explorer. By matching the best fitting stable isotope signatures, the researchers were able to calculate what proportion of each prey species the whales were consuming.
The results showed that fin whales in Irish waters have a diet comprising 50% krill and 50% young sprat and herring. Throughout most of their range in European waters, fin whales feed almost exclusively on krill, so the Irish whales are unusual in that they rely heavily on small fish. Humpback whales seem to prefer sprat and herring when feeding in Irish waters and their diet comprised less than 30% krill. The research team also examined the long term diet of whales by analysing stable isotope values of baleen plates, which are flat sheets of fingernail-like tissue in the mouths of some large whales, used to filter food from the seawater. By using baleen plates stored in museums in Ireland and the UK the study examined changes in diet over the last 100 years. The main finding was that the long term diets of minke, fin and humpback whales are quite different from each other. This result was somewhat unexpected as these species are often seen feeding in close proximity to each other.
These results which have recently been published in the international science journals: Marine Mammal Science and Marine Ecology Progress Series, arise from a three year PhD project at the Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology (GMIT) and funded by the Irish Research Council.
Dr Conor Ryan said," We now have clear evidence that sprat and herring are important species supporting whales in Irish waters, and we must manage our fisheries with this in mind. We are very worried that sprat is being fished with an open quota, despite a huge gap in our knowledge about the life history of this important species in the Celtic Sea".
Dr Simon Berrow, lecturer in Marine Science at Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology (GMIT), Executive Officer of the IWDG, and member of the Celtic Sea Herring Management Advisory Committee added, "This data will be incorporated into the new Environmental Management Plan commissioned by the Celtic Sea Herring Management Advisory Committee which is essential for the proper management of these fisheries and ensuring this fishery is compliant with Marine stewardship Council requirements. Whale-watching is growing in Ireland and has the potential to expand much more if we manage these fish stocks for both fishers and whales and dolphins, which will bring further benefits to coastal communities".
Dr Brendan McHugh a chemist at the Marine Environment and Food Safety Services in the Marine Institute said, "Collaborative studies like this one between biologists and chemists are key to developing a greater understanding of ecosystem linkages and their impacts."
#MarineWildlife - An upcoming research cruise by the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group (IWDG) is set to follow the path of a famous whaling voyage embarked on by an Irish Times journalist more than 100 years ago.
The paper reports on the pending mission by the marine wildlife charity's Celtic Mist research vessel that will retrace the movements of Crawford Hartnell from the site of what was then a Norwegian whaling station in the Inishkea Islands off the Mullet Peninsula in Mayo to a point 160km west where Hartnell report the harpooning of two whales.
Hartnell's accounts of his whaling adventure are remembered today for their blood-soaked vividness - but the IWDG's advances are altogether more friendly.
Rather than harpoon their quarry, the researchers on board the Celtic Mist will be on the lookout for baleen and beaked whales to count - and will also be teaching IWDG members how to identify species, how to carry out sea-bound surveys and how to use hydrophones to identify cetaceans by the sounds they make beneath the waves.
The Irish Times has much more on the story HERE.
The Blow-Ins is a 15-minute adventure comedy that was shot in Courtmacsherry, Kilbrittain and other picturesque coastal spots in West Cork.
Written and directed by CJ Scuffins for Story Factory, The Blow-Ins will premiere at the 14th Chicago Irish Film Festival from Friday 1 March after its recent acclaim at the recent Corona Cork Film Festival.
The Southern Star has more on the story HERE.
The Southern Star reports on the 'Discover Wildlife Weekends' being run from Rosscarbery by local company Ireland's Wildlife starting this April, where those taking part will be led by expert guides to explore the coastal region and have the best opportunities to spot the many species of whales and dolphins that visit our shores.
Weather permitting, the weekends will also involve some offshore whale watching in the company of 'whale watch supremo' Colin Barnes and the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group's (IWDG) sightings co-ordinator Pádraig Whooley.
And birdwatching will also be a feature, as West Cork is a hotspot for our feathered friends - from merlins and peregrine falcons to coastal waders and more exotic fowl that skirt our coasts on their spring migrations.
The Southern Star has much more on the story HERE.
Meanwhile, marine sector stakeholders have expressed their concerns over the designation of six new offshore marine areas by the National Parks and Wildlife Service.
As previously reported on Afloat.ie, the six sites at Blackwater Bank in Wexford, the West Connacht coast, Hempton's Turbot Bank in Donegal, the Porcupine Bank Canyon off Kerry, the South-East Rockall Bank, and the stretch from Rockabill to Dalkey Island off Dublin have been proposed for designation as Special Areas of Conservation (SACs) to protect marine habitats and species listed on the 1992 EU Habitats Directive.
But at a recent meeting at the Irish Farm Centre in Dublin, a coalition of fish farmers, fishermen and marine energy stakeholders have hit out at what they characterise as "the appalling handling of inshore designations since the 1990s by the State", which they claim "has resulted in hundreds of job losses and a flight of serious investment" from Ireland's coastal areas.
“Our experience of the Irish Government’s application of the EU Habitats Directive has been a saga of mismanagement, foot dragging and buck-passing which has left over 500 fish farming licences in limbo for over 10 years and a backlog of red tape and bureaucracy which could see producers waiting until 2020 and beyond for simple renewals which are vital to underpin their businesses," said IFA aquaculture executive Richie Flynn.
#MarineWildlife - Sperm whales and a killer whale were among the finds on the last big effort of this year's Cetaceans on the Frontier survey led jointly by the Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology (GMIT) and the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group (IWDG).
As previously reported on Afloat.ie, marine scientists from GMIT's Marine and Freshwater Research Centre are on board the RV Celtic Explorer to carry out the fourth dedicated survey of cetaceans on the continental shelf edge.
The ship was surveying a zig-zag pattern in the Atlantic yesterday 2 February, some 55 nautical miles west-by-northwest of Achill Island (visible on this map HERE) when the team encountered at least two sperm whales, though an elusive third may also have been present - as indicated by the hydrophone being towed 200m behind the vessel.
"The blows continued and as we got closer, more and more body of the surfacing whale could be seen until we were treated to some reasonable views of the steep nose, long flat back and stumpy dorsal fin on initial surfacing followed by a thick tail stock with ‘knuckles’ seen when flaking," writes Niall Keogh on the Cetaceans on the Frontier blog.
Soon after that, the researchers were treated to their first sight of a killer whale in Irish waters - followed by a number of pilot whales surfacing close to the ship.
#whales – Unique video of whales "bubble feeding" off Baltimore was captured by sailor Youen Jacob Jnr just minutes after setting out from his home port at the weekjend. The RNLI lifeboat man and sailing champion Jacob, managed to photograph the two humpbacks as they hunted last Saturday morning. A group of astounded sailors and fishermen watched in awe as a pod of humpback whales conducted a so-called 'bubble-netting' hunt off the west Cork coast for a herring shoal.The Irish Independent has more here.
#MARINE WILDLIFE - The Irish Whale and Dolphin Group (IWDG) has called for the extension of Ireland's pioneering whale and dolphin sanctuary throughout European coastal waters.
As the Clare Herald reports, the move comes on the 21st anniversary of the declaration of Irish waters as a sanctuary for cetaceans by then Taoiseach Charles Haughey - whose family gifted his yacht Celtic Mist to the IWDG to assist in its marine wildlife conservation work.
"The sanctuary declaration was unique in Europe and no EU member state had made such an unequivocal statement about the importance of their waters for cetaceans," said the IWDG's Brendan Price.
The sanctuary extends up to 200 nautical miles offshore, covering the Irish Exclusive Economic Zone, and in the two decades since its founding has prompted a greater awareness of and interest in the whales and dolphins that populate Ireland's waters.
The declaration "led to a clearer understanding of the responsibility Ireland had to cetaceans and their habitat including in offshore waters," added Price. "The sanctuary declaration was a precursor to action leading to protection in Irish waters and thus the IWDG considers the sanctuary declaration a success."
Price went on to outline the IWDG's vision for extending this sanctuary throughout European waters.
"There are a number of small marine protected areas in Europe for cetaceans, including harbour porpoise and bottlenose dolphins, and some international sanctuaries such as the Pelagos Sanctuary in the Mediterranean.
"These areas all have important roles to play but cetaceans are mobile marine species and travel large distances. Also, to gain public support for cetacean conservation it may require a larger, more simple concept."
The group intends to promote its proposals within the continent "and encourage like-minded people and organisations to lobby their own government to make such a clear and unequivocal statement on cetacean conservation".
#MARINE WILDLIFE - The Irish Whale and Dolphin Group (IWDG) has confirmed a new humpback whale sighting, this time in Northern Ireland.
According to the IWDG, this is the third consecutive year that a humpback whale has been spotted in Northern Irish waters, with this sighting being only the fourth ever validated record for the species in the North.
IWDG sightings co-ordinator Pádraig Whooley described it as "an important development [that] highlights a trend towards increased sightings of this large baleen whale species in Irish waters."
He also remarked on the "unusual" location of the sighting in the fast-running waters of the Strangford Narrows at the Ards Peninsula.
The discovery comes just a week after confirmed sighting of two humpback whales at the opposite end of the island of Ireland, off Galley Head in West Cork, as previously reported on Afloat.ie.
#MARINE WILDLIFE - The rate of cetacean strandings on the Irish coast remains unusually high, according to the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group (IWDG).
The group's Cetacean Stranding Scheme recorded 162 strandings in 2011 which, while numbers do vary from year to year, was 25-30 more than anticipated.
And already this year the numbers are up on last year's 'inexplicable' records for the first quarter.
Some 21 strandings were reported to the IWDG in January alone - the highest ever number recorded for that month, well above the average of 13.
February's figures are even more worrying, with 30 strandings reported this year compared to a five-year average of 11.4.
"As we are now well into 2012, it is clear that the numbers have not returned to what we could have considered to be more normal levels," said the group in a statement.
There is as yet no explanation, whether a single cause or a number of factors, for what might be causing this significant rise in strandings of both live and dead animals, although one curious clue is "the number of carcasses which had washed ashore with tail fluke/fins apparently cut away".
In other IWDG news, the group recently announced the receipt of £2,000 (€2,400) core funding support from Scottish-based veterinary X-ray firm BCF Technology Ltd, which funds a number of charities through its BCF Foundation.
"Until Alaska, my own serious nautical experience was crossing the Irish Sea on a car ferry," writes the Cork native best known for his BBC chat show.
But the remoteness of the Alaskan coastline - as seen from the decks of the Crystal Symphony - struck him with a special kind of awe.
"Enjoying Alaska's natural wonders It's hard not to be amazed as you cruise into wilderness areas such as Glacier Bay because they're so jaw-droppingly spectacular. It's absolutely beautiful," he says.
"The highlights were the glaciers and the whale-watching. The ship sails right up to the wall of the glacier and you sit there watching large blocks of ice breaking off calving, I think it's called, and it's just stunning."
Norton was especially surprised by his excitement at seeing the whales.
"They're brilliant. Watching them popping out of the sea was really, really, really good! So good, in fact, you kind of think I mustn't go whale-watching again because I'll only be disappointed next time. It was quite an emotional experience. You feel privileged to see these creatures."
Perhaps next time he takes a break in West Cork he might take a look out to sea and witness some of those magnificent creatures a lot closer to home!