Wednesday 11 September 2013

Early Results

Common Dolpin (c) Paddy O'Dwyer - IWDG

Well its finally done, I’ve been looking over the figures and all in all it seems like the whole 
endeavour was a success. I suppose seeing 1,302 dolphins, 116 porpoises, 79 whales and 19 basking sharks isn’t bad for one summer. 

                                                                           (c) Nick Massett - IWDG

The highlight of the whole bursary was on the 28th of July when we came across a humpback feeding with a dozen minkes and hundreds of common dolphins. Other sightings of note were the bottlenose dolphins, we encountered the same group three times and also the rissos dolphins we encountered at the start and twice at the end of the bursary. However every day was enjoyable and presented different challenges. Marine Eco Tours have a great team that were very knowledgeable and were a pleasure to work with. It was very interesting talking to people on the tours and finding out what they did and didn’t know about the cetaceans in Irelands waters. While some knew a great deal others didn’t know much at all, but everyone was keen to learn more.

 Basking Shark (c) Paddy O'Dwyer - IWDG

The study started on June 8th and finished September the 6th.  Starting at the most basic I made it out on 43 separate days over the summer, July was the month with the most days 19 or 44% of all days. This is hardly surprising given the fine weather we had for most of July. A break down for the other months goes June 10 days, August 11 days and September 3 days. In terms of sightings I recorded sightings on 37 of the 43 days an 86% success rate not bad considering the range of conditions we were out in. There was a total of 18 days where sea state was recorded as 4 or more for some part of the day which is hardly ideal. 72% of all sighting occurred in sea state 2 or less with 96% of sightings occurring in sea state 3 or less. 

                                                                Minke Whale (c) Paddy O'Dwyer - IWDG 

Saturday the 20 of July was the day that produced the most sightings with 11. The most common month for sightings was July with 93 sightings or 54% of the total sightings, this is hardly surprising given that we were out on more days. However there was a clear difference between June and August despite getting out on more days in August there were far less sightings than in June. June had 50 or 29% of sightings while August had 23 or 13% of sightings, September produced 6 sightings not bad for only 3 days.

                                                          Rissos Dolpin (c) Paddy O'Dwyer - IWDG

The most commonly sighted species was unsurprisingly the harbour porpoise with 42% of all sightings, this was followed by minke whales 29% and common dolphins 18%. However when it comes to the numbers sighted for each species the common dolphins win by a landslide with 81% of the total animals seen. This is mainly due to a few days where there hundreds of them in the bay. Even the harbour porpoises the most frequently seen animal could only manage 8% of the individual animals seen. Aside from all this I managed to capture id shots of bottlenose dolphins, rissos dolphins a minke whale and basking sharks. 

I’ve included the table below as a breakdown of sightings over the project. I’m currently working up the report and should be able to put up some distribution maps next week as well as any addition information that I’ve probably left out.

                                              Bottlenosed Dolpin (c) Paddy O'Dwyer - IWDG

Again I’d like to thank the Irish whale and Dolphin Group for the opportunity, Simon, Joanne and Nick for all their support and Mick, Britta and Billy from Marine Eco Tours who made it a productive and enjoyable summer.

Speceis Sightings No of individuals  Group range June  July   August September
Bottlenose dolphins 3 40 20-8 - - 3 -
Common Dolphin 31 1230 300-5 1 18 11 1
Humpback Whale 1 1 1-1 1 - -
Harbour porpoise 73 116 5-1 21 41 9 2
Minke whale  50 78 12-1 22 27 0 1
Rissos Dolphin  3 32 12-8 1 - - 2
Basking Shark  11 19 5-1 5 6 - -
Total 172 1516 - 50 93 23 6

Monday 9 September 2013

Week 13 September 2nd-6th ‘’Final week’’

This was the last week of the bursary the 13 weeks seem to have flown by. The weather in the beginning of the week didn’t look great and this was reflected when we finally made it out on Tuesday the 3rd, rough seas and an overcast day made spotting very difficult. The evening trip was cut short and unfortunately we didn’t see any cetaceans.
Rissos Dolphin (c) Paddy O'Dwyer - IWDG
Things were looking up on Thursday the 5th with the weather much improved. Our first sighting was  a group of 12 rissos dolphins, while commonly seen around the islands in the past this was our second sighting of this species during the study. The first time we encountered them was on the first day of the bursary, on that occasion they were only surfacing briefly and didn’t hang around too long. However on this occasion they were surfacing multiple times and appeared to be foraging. This gave all of us fantastic views, there group appeared to be a mix of mostly adults with a few juveniles. After spending some time with them we moved on. Later in the day we had two sightings of individual harbour porpoises which only made a few surfaces before moving on. We also encountered the rissos on the evening tour and again they seemed unfazed by the boat. On our return to Ventry we came across a minke whale that surfaced multiply times in close proximity to the boat. This is the first time in a while that we have seen a minke and its good to see that cetacean activity in the area appears to be on the increase.

 Rissos Dolphin (c) Paddy O'Dwyer - IWDG

                                                                       Rissos Dolphin (c) Paddy O'Dwyer - IWDG
Friday the 6th was another fine day, despite our best efforts we couldn’t find the rissos again. However we did come across a group of 30 common dolphins. At first there seemed to be only a few dolphins but as we continued it was clear that it was a much larger group with more and more dolphins appearing around the boat. They were bow riding and playing in the wake of the boat. The group contained a few juveniles and a very small calf. This group also contained a member with a floppy dorsal fin, we have seen this individual before a couple of times. It can be seen in the video below.

Common Dolphin (c) Paddy O'Dwyer - IWDG
I’m currently looking over the results of the study and will post some final figures in terms of  days,sightings and numbers over the next few days. I’d like to thank the IWDG for providing this fantastic opportunity and Mick Sheeren ‘’Marine Eco Tours’’ for providing the platform for this work. And also to Billy, Britta and Nick for all the help they provided during this project.
For more on Irish Whales and Dolphins:

For more on Marine Eco Tours :

                                                                             Rissos Dolphin (c) Paddy O'Dwyer - IWDG

Tuesday 3 September 2013

Week 12 August 26th - September 1st

Unfortunately we only got out on two occasions this week, Thursday the 29th and Saturday the 31st.
Thursday was the first sign that the bay was once again full of activity. In excellent conditions we first had a sighting of a single harbour porpoise which only surfaced twice before disappearing. Then on the evening tour we had our first common dolphin encounter for the day a small group of 8 dolphins that were foraging and didn’t pay much interest to the boat. This was followed by a group of 10 that were also foraging but approached the boat and played in its wake for a while. 

 Common dolphin (c) Paddy O'Dwyer - IWDG

Finally a group of 20 common dolphins that we spotted from distance approached the boat at speed and were the most playful of all the groups after a short time we left this group and returned to Ventry harbour. When we taught that we had seen everything for the day a group of 5 harbour porpoises passed us in a tight group, it’s the largest group of harbour porpoises we’ve recorded here this summer. It’s great to see things picking up after a few lean weeks in the bay.
 Common dolphin (c) Paddy O'Dwyer - IWDG

Despite poor conditions on the 31st we had a group of 12 common dolphins that took a quick respite from foraging and approached the boat to bow ride for a short time before returning to their foraging. There were also reports of a minke in the area. Next week will probably be my last as part of the bursary programme so let’s hope it produces a few exciting sightings. 

Week 11 August 19th-25th

More bad weather this week prevented us from getting our as much as we would have liked. In total we were only out three days this week. However it wasn’t all bad considering we had sightings on each day we were out.  The first day we were out was Monday the 19th conditions weren’t ideal for spotting but we still managed 3 harbour porpoise sightings. The first was a group of 2 adults that we encountered early on the tour. The next was of a single harbour porpoise that appeared less than 50 meters from the boat. And finally another 2 animals that surfaced multiple times again in close proximity to the boat. We didn’t get out again till the 22nd conditions on the day started to deteriorate a lot as the day went on with swell and wind increasing. We only managed a single sighting of one harbour porpoise which popped up very close to the shore after a few surfaces it was gone beneath the waves again. After a disappointing day on the 22nd things really improved on the 23rd very early on in the trip we encountered group of 20 bottlenose dolphins. 
Bottlenose dolphin (c) Paddy O'Dwyer - IWDG

 The group contained a juvenile and a calf with neonatal lines still evident down its side. They were heading east along the peninsula and after spending some time with them capturing photo id images we left them off to their own adventures. The photo id images have been processed and will be used to see if there a match between this group and the costal population or maybe even the Shannon dolphins.

Bottlenose dolphin (c) Paddy O'Dwyer - IWDG

 Coming back from the morning tour we encountered half the group heading out west. Again on the evening tour we encountered members of the original group, they appeared to navigating the bay and exploring around all the islands. 

Bottlenose dolphin (c) Paddy O'Dwyer - IWDG

Wednesday 21 August 2013

Week 10 August 12th - 18th

Unfortunately due to more unsuitable weather we were only able to complete two trips this week. The last few weeks have been in stark contrast to earlier in the summer when we were out nearly every day. The two days we made it out were the 12th and the 16th unfortunately we had no sightings on the 16th. Things had gone better on the 12th with six different sightings comprised of two harbour porpoise sightings and four common dolphin sightings. The two harbour porpoise sightings occurred early in the day the fist was of two animals close to the shore with another individual observed later on again quite close to the coast. The first group of common dolphins we encountered were quite close to the second harbour porpoise, the group contained 10 animals that were travelling at a slow swim and didn’t seem to show much interest in the boat as they didn’t approach it at all. The second group was slightly larger at 12 individuals these were more interested in us and approached the boat and were bowriding for a few minutes before we had to leave them behind. The next group of common dolphins we encountered we only saw surface twice before they disappeared again. Finally the last group had eight to ten dolphins and displayed little to no interest in the boat swimming past us at a fast swim. It’s interesting to see the different behaviour displayed by these groups as it keeps us on our toes and means each encounter is unique and different. 

Sunday 11 August 2013

Week 9 August 5th-11th

Unfortunately some prior commitments meant I missed a couple of days this week that combined with some very changeable weather meant we only got out twice this week.  On Friday the 9th we had two very different encounters with two separate groups of common dolphins. The first group we spotted were very close to us and were swimming along slowly were completely indifferent to the boat merely swimming around it and not interacting with it at all. The second group we spotted from a few hundred meters off they were coming clear out of the water and making directly for the boat. This group stayed around the boat for a while and were bow riding alongside us it was a complete contradiction to the group we had seen earlier. The variability you encounter in each group is one of the things that makes working with animals quite interesting and ensures you ant rest on your expectations of what the animals should do.

 Common dolphin (c) Paddy O'Dwyer - IWDG

We were back out the following day and came across some harbour porpoises and common dolphins. Our first sighting was of some harbour porpoises that were swimming slowly across the bow of the ship they surfaced multiple times giving all on board a great opportunity to see this often elusive species. Later in the day we came across a group of 20 common dolphins these were in a similar location to the first group we saw the day before and again didn’t show much interest in the boat. Aside from a few who approached and bow rode briefly they were gone soon after they appeared.

Common dolphin (c) Paddy O'Dwyer - IWDG

Hopefully the weather improves for the rest of the month as Nick Masset is still reporting plenty of Humpback blows in the area. Nick has reported seeing 4 separate animals on one occasion. Nick conducts many of his watches from Slea head and from Clogher head and while he uses a high power scope the blows can often be seen through a reasonable pair of binoculars. As always if you see any cetaceans around the coat of Ireland please report to the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group Sightings network it’s a two minute process and helps us to track animal movement around Ireland and gives us more insight in area use and animal behavior: 
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Week 8 July 29th - August 4th

Unfortunately our fantastic trip last Sunday was not to be repeated this week as the weather changed for the worst. As a result we only made it out on three days this week.  Tuesday the 30th was the first day we made it out since our humpback encounter unfortunately some high swell on the north side of the islands meant we couldn’t go back to the site where we had seen the humpback, instead we remained in the shelter of the bay. Although it seemed last week that every cetacean in the south west was west of the island it seems there were still some in the bay. We saw a minke whale early in the day and this was followed by two harbour porpoise sightings. The fist harbour porpoise sighting was of three animals and this was followed later in the day by two animals.
Minke whale (c) Paddy O' Dwyer - IWDG
Although we were out on the morning of the 3rd conditions were very poor and we had no sightings the afternoon trip was cancelled due to the bad conditions.

Things had improved the follow day and we back out in the bay. We came across a single group of about 30 common dolphins who appeared to be acting quite strangely. They were skimming along the surface at quite a pace and didn’t seem to be too concerned by the boat, some approached to bow ride briefly with most content to just swim along parallel to the boat. The group was a good mix of adults, juveniles and a few calves this type of group appears to be very common in the bay with groups encountered west of the islands seeming to be composed of mostly adults. 
                                                                     Common Dolphin (c) Paddy O' Dwyer - IWDG