When I found myself kneeling over a bloated corpse in the moonlight last night with a scalpel in my hand I paused to reflect on what had brought me to this.
It was 3 years ago when it first happened. I was walking down the frosted road to Garrarus Beach when all of a sudden an explosion tore from the choppy surface of the sea just off the beach. The tall plume of spray was followed by a long curving roll of black interrupted by a sharp black fin. I had often feared that I would see a whale and not know what it was but it was unmistakeable. My first whale.
So began my whale watching career which has seen me volunteer for the IWDG Strandings Scheme. I often get contacted to confirm reports of stranded animals, usually always dead. Last night I got an email from the strandings co-ordinator telling me of a ‘badly injured’ dolphin on Kilfarrasy Beach.
When I was young my parents used to bring us to Kilfarrasy, a small beach which is great for swimming especially when the tide is out with its sandy flat bottom and few rocks. Sometimes there are a lot of sand flies which are attracted by rotting seaweed but that is far outweighed by the beauty of the area:the headland with its sea arch, Burkes’ Island slumbering in the shallow bay and the psychedelic cliffs writhing oh-so-slowly in slate blue and red and yellow where they have shrugged off the bright ochre earth.
The rocks at the far end of the beach are jagged and distinctive, like witches hats or twists of hard liquorice rising from jewel encrusted rock pools and a tumble of grimacing boulders that at low tide test the walker who is aiming for the fantastical beaches that stretch beyond to Garrarus. As the tide comes washing around the stacks and islands that rise straight from the rollers the pale stony strands are cut off preserving their unspoiled mystery.
To swim here on a bright empty morning after a long night shift while the curve of cliffs holds the bowl of blue sky overhead is nothing short of heaven.
Once there was a Golf Resort intended for this stretch of coast. The developers wanted a massive reed bed filtration scheme for the cliff tops of Kilfarrasy to process the sewage from the proposed development. The planned system would have been so big it would more than likely have turned the cliffs, beach and surrounds into a sewer. Thankfully local opposition and a blooming recession put paid to that idiocy.
It was from Kilfarrasy that I had my first kayaking trip. Mick O’Meara of Sea Paddling took us all the way over the Garrarus and back that day, weaving in and out of rocks into sea caves at Garrarus and on Burkes Island.The view of the coast from the water is amazing and gives one an entirely different perspective.
Last night when I received the report the ‘badly injured dolphin’ I decided to check it out immediately as I knew the tide was coming in. The beach was deserted under a three-quarter moon, Jupiter, Venus, and Mercury rising. It took two sweeps of the beach with a weak torch to find it. In the end it turned out to be a Harbour Porpoise lacking its head, tail and all its fins. Badly injured indeed.
My Stupid Phone camera was not up to the job and I got only very poor photos but I did get some skin samples and it added some excitement to wonder if the corpse was going to explode in my face when I stuck the scalpel into it. Though the hide is thick and the skin samples are only needed from the first millimetre it wasn’t the time to have any major twitches.
I was soon finished and I left to go home. As I drove away up the silvery road I could see in the rear view mirror the pointy rock that is everyones last view of Kilfarrasy its blackened clawed finger a lewd gesture that seems fitting considering how little the sea owes us, how much damage we do.