Harbour Porpoise by Simon Berrow, Irish Whale and Dolphin Group

Read the full report here: Celtic Mist Scientific Report 2023

Five-month operation surveyed over 3200 kilometres of Cork, Kerry and Clare coastlines

A new report from Fair Seas and the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group (IWDG) has raised fresh concerns about the lack of monitoring of Ireland’s inshore waters by the state, just days before World Ocean Day on Saturday, June 8th. The Celtic Mist 2023 Scientific Report details the findings of five months of research surveys along more than 3200 kilometres along the coastlines of counties Cork, Kerry and Clare.

The focus of researchers from the IWDG, with the support of Fair Seas, was on two large Areas of Interest (AOI), which both showed low numbers of harbour porpoise sightings. In the Southwest Coast AOI, researchers say sightings were ‘significantly lower than expected’ especially within the Roaring Water Bay and Islands Special Area of Conservation (SAC), which aims to conserve harbour porpoise under EU law. In the Loop Head to Kenmare AOI, no harbour porpoises were observed at all within the Blasket Islands SAC, which is also designated to protect harbour porpoise.

Irish Whale and Dolphin Group Science Officer and Fair Seas Partner Rebecca Dudley  says theirs is the latest piece of research that points to the issue: “Harbour porpoise numbers have been shown to be in decline off many parts of Ireland in recent years. We need more research to explore the drivers behind the decline but it is undoubtedly a cause for concern, given the importance of this species to our Special Areas of Conservation. It is disappointing to see that still no management plans for these supposedly ‘protected areas’ have been developed by the Government.

“It’s vitally important that additional state resources are allocated to this kind of research. We are lucky to have a group of dedicated volunteers working with us, but effective monitoring of  what’s going on in the water off our coastline is a mammoth task and beyond the scope of groups like our own.

If the Irish Government is to meet its target of protecting 30% of Irish waters with Marine Protected Areas by 2030, then monitoring must drastically increase along with robust management plans for all designated areas. The message is all the more timely given this Saturday marks World Ocean Day 2024, which has ‘Catalysing Action for Our Ocean & Climate’ as its action theme”.

The report highlights how no humpback whales were observed in the survey areas in the southwest at all, which tallies with reports from the IWDG’s Sighting Scheme of sightings being recorded further north, off the Sligo and Mayo coasts.The number of large baleen whales recorded were low in both areas surveyed, while eight sightings of fin whales occurred within the Loop Head to Kenmare section.

A total of 462 sightings of large marine animals or megafauna were recorded during nine

surveys conducted between April and September last year. Some of the results include:

● 48% of those seen were common dolphins

● 22% were grey seals

● 12% were minke whales

● 25 sightings of bottlenose dolphins

● 1 blue shark was spotted

Researchers have paid tribute to the 66 volunteers who assisted in last year’s survey, including skippers and first mates. The work is being expanded in 2024, as Rebecca Dudley explains: “We have now begun our latest round of surveys which will continue right through the summer and into September. Celtic Mist will be taking crew and volunteers all along the west coast of Ireland, from Bantry in Cork up to Killybegs in Donegal with quayside events taking place at various locations. It’s an incredible experience but it’s also an important project in the context of understanding what’s happening to marine life around the Irish coast”.

Celtic Mist was donated to the IWDG in 2011, by the family of Ireland’s former Taoiseach, Charles J. Haughey. At 17m, Celtic Mist has become the IWDG’s flagship vessel and can accommodate eight people. It has surveyed Irish inshore and offshore waters since 2012, successfully circumnavigating Ireland on several occasions and sailing to Iceland in 2018.

Strong national Marine Protected Areas legislation would ensure that Ireland effectively fulfils its commitment to protect 30% of its ocean by 2030, safeguarding the marine environment and coastal livelihoods for generations to come, please take our online action: https://only.one/act/ministers-protect-our-seas

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