For the past six years, the first few weeks of the year have seen an increase in the number of dolphins being washed up on the Irish coastline.
The Irish Whale and Dolphin Group is making a determined effort this year to try to establish the cause and has begun the first post-mortem examinations of dead dolphins by a veterinary laboratory.
In this week’s podcast, the Chief Scientific Officer of the IWDG tells me what is being done and says that fisheries by-catch is particularly being looked at.
If there is another increase this year in the number of stranded dolphins, the IWDG is hoping the post-mortem scheme will provide a definite insight towards the cause of dolphin deaths.
Irish Whale and Dolphin Group reports eight strandings since Jan 1 ....There were two on New Year’s Day, a common dolphin in Tralee Bay and a white-beaked dolphin at Ballyconneely in Co,Galway. There have been strandings since in Counties Wexford, Clare, Mayo, Waterford and two more in Kerry.
Listen to the Podcast below.
A Life on the Edge survey voyage is an attempt to log the abundance of life on Irelands’ southern shelf edge in September. Irish Whale & Dolphin Gropup's Patrick Lyne is issuing an invitation to join this survey to assist with sailing and logging of sightings and acoustics. This is the fifth year of operation and for the first time Lyne says he will visit the Whittard canyon and adjacent areas in what is one of Europe’s most remote and seldom studied offshore areas.
'We are sailing from Castletownbere in West Cork to Camaret in Brittany and have a few limited places to fill in the outward or return legs', Lyne told Afloat.ie
'We would normally expect to encounter large numbers of fin whale and would hope to encounter blue whales, humpbacks, sperm whales and many other species. It is an opportunity to see many species in a rather short time, in an undisturbed and natural setting' he says.
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.
Two 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 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]).
It seems to me that, without dedicated volunteers, there would be a lot of work not done in the marine sphere, so I like when possible, to highlight what dedicated people are doing. Publicity can help them to raise funding they need by drawing public attention to what they ae doing and achieving support. So in the current edition of THIS ISLAND NATION, the Whale and Dolphin Group takes us on an aerial survey over the Kerry coast as they survey whales in Irish waters.
Minke Whale Pictured Off Seven Heads Photo by Oisin Macsweeney
Years ago we would never have thought that whales would be seen off Ireland, but it has happened and this Summer when sailing along the West Cork coastline off the Seven Heads two minke whales came within a few hundred yards of my Sigma 33, Scribbler II. My 11-year-old grandson, Oisin, was quickest to fetch a camera from the saloon and get a picture. The excitement of seeing whales so close was huge for him, his younger brother of 9 years, Rowan, even their experienced seafarer father, Cormac and myself. The sight of whales, which followed on dolphins playing around the boat for a while, was a reminder of how the sea has many aspects and that protecting it and its inhabitants is a responsibility on all of us. Later in the week’s cruise, for which we were blessed with one of the best weeks of the season, the sight of plastic debris floating along and sea grass despoiling the lovely village environs of Courtmacsherry, was another reminder – of how humans are damaging the marine environment.
Also in the programme this week we hear about the plans by Waterways Ireland for the years ahead and the valuable marine reserve asset which Bull Island in Dublin Bay is for the capital city. What is impressive about what is happening there, in my view, is the joint community and public authority efforts to protect it, about which Dublin Council tells us, outlining what combined, joint effort at this level through communities can achieve.
And I hope you’ll get a smile from the tale which Valentia Island native, Dick Robinson, tells us about going to school every day to the mainland, journeying across the bay on the island ferries and how there was learning, not only at school but also aboard and what it taught youngsters about the benefits, believe it or not, of storms hitting the island.
“We were invited into schools in the North Wall and while all the children had grandparents who were dockers, not one of them knew what a docker was, because all of that tradition is gone….”
Amidst the current controversy over where Dublin Port and Dun Laoghaire Harbour will dump what they intend to dredge up in their plans to provide deeper access channels for the larger cruise ships which they both covet and which business they are fighting for, that comment, made to me on the edge of Dublin Bay by a man dedicated to preserving the maritime traditions of the port, should give cause for thought about where all the commercial development has taken the communities which once bounded in Dublin Port and lived from the jobs it provided.
Alan Martin of the Dublin Dock Workers’ Preservation Society was speaking to me, as we sat on the edge of Dublin Bay, for the current edition of my maritime programme, THIS ISLAND NATION. We could hear the sound of seagulls wheeling in the sky, the rumble of noise emanating from the docks, ships passed in and out, as we talked and he had a reality check for me. He told me that 40,000 jobs have gone from the capital’s port since the time when dock labour sustained viable communities.
“Why do the people of Dublin seem to know so little about the place of the docks in the history of Liffeyside and how their role was once the heart-and-soul of Dublin Port, its shipping and its commerce?”
There are many voluntary organisations doing great work in the marine sphere, without whom much of the maritime culture, history and tradition would be lost. The Dublin Port and Dock Workers’ Preservation Society, set up to preserve the history of Dublin Port, is definitely one such. The interview Alan Martin gave me is revealing. They have encountered many obstacles in their self-imposed task.
He surprised me with his revelations about the extent of the maritime-associated jobs that have been lost and the port-side communities which have suffered in the drive towards modernity. He made strong points about how Dublin’s marine traditions can be preserved and turned into a modern, vibrant, beneficial culture for the benefit of the city.
This offers a bridge from the past to the future, effectively a conveyance of pride in past experience to benefit modern life. Other port communities could, with benefit, replicate the commitment of the Dublin Dock Workers’ Preservation Society.
It was an interview I enjoyed doing and I think you will enjoy listening to. I am fortunate to work as a marine journalist and to meet exceptional people in the ports and maritime communities. So it is good to report in this programme, a positive attitude amongst young people in coastal areas, many of whom are joining the lifeboat service. Also featured in this edition of the programme is the delight of a coastal town when it gets a new lifeboat, as I found in Youghal in East Cork.
And there is always something interesting and unusual about the sea to report, such as the 467 million years old sea scorpion found in a river in Iowa in the USA.
Listen to the programme by clicking at the top of the page
#MarineWildlife - A humpback whale new to Irish waters has been confirmed by the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group (IWDG).
Photos of the humpback's fluke and dorsal fin captured by Nick Massett off Clogher and Sybil Heads in West Kerry at the weekend were examined by the IWDG's catalogue experts who have determined that the whale is a new arrival - and one with a fluke colouring that's rarely seen in Irish waters.
Details have since been sent to Allied Whale in the US state of Maine - which curates the North Atlantic humpback whale catalogue - to see if a match can be made among its database of more than 7,000 fluke images.
Meanwhile, Wildlife Extra reports that sailors in the Irish Sea are urged to keep a lookout for a large group of minke whales.
The group includes three juveniles and a calf previously spotted some 19 miles east of Ireland's Eye near Howth.
"Although sightings of Minke whale are to be expected in these waters, such a large group is a rare occurrence," said Danielle Gibas, sightings officer with the UK's Sea Watch Foundation, which is organising Britain's annual National Whale and Dolphin Watch this week till 3 August.
And in other cetacean news, scientists claim that dolphins call each other by name, calling back to the sound of their signature whistle but ignoring whistles that aren't theirs.
Using underwater speakers, they played synthesised versions of dolphin whistles they'd identified with particular dolphins to determine their reactions.
They were surprised to find that individuals called back after hearing their own 'name' but ignored others, whether they were for dolphins in the same group or strangers.
Last night a woman was hospitalised after being struck by the dolphin's nose in the kidney area, leaving her "badly bruised and shocked by the incident".
It's since emerged that this was the fourth such attack by the bottlenose dolphin in the past month.
The cetacean responsible - a 14-year-old female - has made Doolin her home after many years in the Fanore area, and has apparently been responsible for a number of attacks on swimmers over the last two years.
But visitors continue to swim with the dolphin despite warnings by the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group (IWDG), which discourages any interference with the protected species.
The Irish Times has more on the story HERE.
As reported yesterday on Afloat.ie, Heritage Minister Jimmy Deenihan was on board the IWDG's research vessel Celtic Mist in Dun Laoghaire on Tuesday 16 July to lance the group's new atlas of marine mammal distribution in Irish waters - an event at which he also confirmed his extension of the protections already afforded to whales and dolphins over a number of coastal sites around Ireland.
The Dublin Bay SAC, running from Rockabill off Skerries to Dalkey Island, is one of the six new sites proposed by the minister's department late last year.
The list also features Blackwater Bank in Co Wexford, the West Connacht Coast, Hempton's Turbot Bank in Donegal, the Porcupine Bank Canyon off Kerry and the South-East Rockall Bank.
According to The Irish Times, the Dublin Bay conservation zone alone covers a sea area of 27,000 hectares and will extend protections under the 1992 EU Habitats Directive to the area's population of harbour porpoises.
#MarineWildlife - Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht Jimmy Deenihan was on board the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group's (IWDG) research vessel Celtic Mist yesterday 16 July to launch a new atlas of marine mammals in Ireland's coastal waters.
The Atlas of the Distribution and Relative Abundance of Marine Mammals in Irish Offshore Waters marks the culmination of six years of surveys involving more than 1,000 says at sea, and provides up to date information for 19 species of cetaceans: whales, dolphins and porpoises.
Ireland is home to a remarkable diversity of whales and dolphins, and the new atlas shows how common and widespread some of these species are - from the harbour porpoise and common dolphin to the much larger fin whale.
Not all Irish cetaceans are so common, however, and the atlas also highlights the importance of Irish waters for some of the Atlantic’s rarer deepwater species such as the sperm whale and several beaked whales.
These are species about which very little is known, the IWDG says more work will be required in the coming years to allow a better understanding of the conservation requirements of these animals.
Every six years, Ireland is obliged to report on the conservation status of all of its marine mammals as part of its commitments under the European Union’s Habitats Directive. The data from this atlas has already proved invaluable in underpinning Ireland’s 2013 report to the European Commission.
Speaking at the launch yesterday in Dun Laoghaire, Minister Deenihan commended the work undertaken to produce the atlas.
“This fine atlas is the culmination of many years of work by a large number of people and I’m happy to note that it was produced under a project funded over several years by my department in collaboration with the Marine Institute," he said.
"As minister, I have also extended the protection afforded to whales and dolphins through the designation of additional marine special areas of conservation. I would like to thank the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group for this excellent publication.”
The atlas is available as a PDF to download HERE.
Along the way they will be recording any sightings of whales or dolphins along the way using forms supplied by the IWDG.
And the IWDG is currently offering places on board to all members for both week-long legs of the cruise.
The vessel has eight berths that will comfortably sleep a team of one skipper and seven crew - indeed, anyone taking up this offer will be expected to prepare meals and perform other sailing duties!
For more details on how to join The Gathering Cruise on board Celtic Mist, see the IWDG website HERE.
In the meantime, Celtic Mist is offering all IWDG members a chance to sail on day trips from Dun Laoghaire this week - email [email protected] for details.
The studies, part funded by the US Navy, found that beaked whales where particularly sensitive to sonar - and that even blue whales, the largest animals on earth, were distracted from feeding by the subsurface noise.
It's long been feared that the use of sonar is to blame for unusual behaviour among whales, who navigate and communicate with each other over long distances using sound.
As previously reported on Afloat.ie, the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group (IWDG) identified sonar activity by Royal Navy submarines as a possible cause of a the mass stranding of pilot whales in Donegal in November 2010, in which as many as 35 whales died.
Now for the first time, sonar has been proven to affect behaviour of cetaceans to a detrimental degree, confirming for many a connection between the use of sonar technology and recordings of whale and dolphin strandings identified since the 1950s. The Guardian has much more on the story HERE.
In more positive whale-related news, the IWDG reports that its next Cape Clear summer whalewatching course over the weekend of 26-28 July is "filling up nicely".
Places are still available but as it coincides with the tourism high season in West Cork, anyone interested is advised to book sooner than later to ensure they have someone to stay nearby.
The most recent weekend course over the June bank holiday witnessed numerous harbour porpoises and common dolphins, but its hoped the elusive whales will make an appearance next time round!