BYCATCH~Some thoughts & figures from the IWDG (Irish Whale & Dolphin Group)

blog-postAs an addition to last Saturdays post about bycatch in Irish waters here is a piece from my strandings co-ordinator at the IWDG. As I am a volunteer for the IWDG I am at pains in my posts to stress that I do not officially represent that organisation for fear my lack of training or knowledge misses some insight. So I am very pleased to be able to link to this article by Mick O’Connell, from whom I have learned a lot of what I know regarding strandings. I have included the full text here too. include this link to an article about 85 dolphins found dead in France, suspected victims of pelagic trawling which causes up to 100 deaths in that area between January and March every year. You can use Google to translate it from French.

At the end you will see  have added a video of a seal release that happened last weekend in Courtown Co. Wexford. Seal Rescue Ireland  rescues and rehabilitates seals all around the country. It is nice to see that not all news from the oceans is dire..I’ll be back on Saturday with a change of subject…

Dolphin deaths in Ireland….does anyone really care?

7th Feb 2017

As I sit here by the desk, I can’t help but feeling like I’m in a movie – unfortunately for dolphins in Ireland, the movie in question is Groundhog Day, because last year feels like yesterday, watching a steady stream of dead dolphin reports and thinking “will I be sitting here this time next year watching the same thing?”. Unfortunately, the answer is no because at 42, total strandings to 6 February 2017 are around 30% higher than 2016 and are second highest on record with only 2013 being higher (45). As has been the case since 2013, the biggest losers are common dolphins and one would have to start wondering at what stage they may become ‘uncommon’ dolphins.

Credit: Sandy Alcorn Credit: Sandy Alcorn

Up to 2011, we would have expected between one and seven common dolphin strandings in the first five weeks of the year but in 2013 the figure was 27 and in 2017 stands at 22. What we must keep stressing is that this is only a figure for recorded strandings, not including those that never wash ashore or go unreported despite stranding. One study suggests that as little as 8% of dolphins dying at sea are actually recorded. Before 2011, the highest annual total of recorded strandings of cetaceans in Ireland was 147 but this has risen to between 176 and 219 over the last five years. So, the obvious question is why? And the rather pathetic answer is, we don’t know, even though this has been an annual occurrence for the last five years or so.

Credit: Clare Scott

There is no doubt in our minds that fisheries bycatch related to offshore pelagic trawling in winter/early spring has a part to play. Post mortem results from Co. Mayo in 2013 when there was an unusually high number of dead common dolphins washed ashore, confirmed that deaths were consistent with fisheries bycatch. Also, injury and damage to some carcasses is consistent with bycatch eg broken beak as in the picture above and this is coincidental with a large fishing effort by various countries in the waters around Ireland at this time of year. IWDG accept that there is a ‘normal’ level of strandings from various causes ie sickness, injury, old age etc but we are concerned at the increase in strandings over the last five years and the apparent lack of determination to establish the cause(s) in what is, if nothing else, a legally protected species. Several recent live and dead strandings also show signs of emaciation but is this due to illness or lack of food? Until there is a scheme in place in Ireland to post mortem freshly dead cetaceans with a view to establishing the cause of death, it is impossible to adequately protect these animals because without knowing the ‘why’, little else is possible. If you establish causes of death then, for example, you learn if it is worthwhile to refloat live stranded animals. Likewise, if you learn the impact and extent of interaction with different types of fisheries, only then can you look at putting workable mitigation measures into effect. In a way, perhaps the biggest threat to cetaceans in Ireland is not what people are doing, but what people are not doing. It’s surely time to stop just ticking boxes and start trying to figure out what the actual problems are.

Mick O’Connell,

IWDG Strandings Officer

Seal Release 5th February 2017

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