Coast Diary – January 29th

I was wondering last week how I’d keep a coast diary going, I mean how often can you say

‘I saw the sea today. It was nice.”

But I forgot that things have a habit of…happening. There was the news that Russia is planning military manoeuvers off our southwest coast, which will likely be damaging to the ceteaceans, besides being politically – and in all other ways – dubious. Jokes abounded, mostly about the Healy-Raes luring Russian boats onto the rocks to loot the occupants but it is worrying and worth keeping an eye on.

Last week’s post was about how many dolphins are around and on Sunday a common dolphin washed up on Tramore Beach. I guess there was bound to be some casualties. On my way to the beach, our distinctive red and white SAR helicopter, Rescue 117 out of Waterford airport, passed over going at speed. It was heading out the coast where a body, a human one, had washed up. May they rest in peace. Some days after this, we were relieved to find out that Rescue 117 will remain at Waterford airport after it had appeared that base might be omitted from a new contract. It won’t be the last time the SAR will be threatened by penny-pinching civil servants but they’ll always have a fight on their hands. We revere our SAR, not only on our islands and the coast but inland, on the rivers, up the mountains and even in the cities.

Down on the beach, the unfortunate dolphin was a full grown female common dolphin and fairly fresh. Though I don’t normally notice that the animals differ much, she seemed to me to be especially pretty so I later tried a watercolour of her but it doesn’t quite capture her. It was very busy with walkers and I was dreading recording (taking tissue samples, photos and measurements) but I found to my surprise that, as I used to before Covid, I enjoyed talking to the people that asked about the dolphin. My innate misanthropy had flourished with lockdown. I found it hard to understand how many people couldn’t be bothered about social distancing or just having manners – in supermarkets and out and about, especially on the narrow roads. I literally twisted myself out of shape running around people. And I genuinely find it shocking how many couples (and families) can’t do things individually – like shop, or walk single file – are ye afraid your other half will get away if you can’t keep an eye on them? At least it has made me cherish my independence. Anyway it was nice to feel my mojo return. But it didn’t last long as family groups began crowding around. Some people are very blase about letting their kids pat dead animals and their dogs lick them. It was very cold waiting around for people to move on so I got out of there fairly fast with the result I didn’t take great photos.

The next day, Monday, the IWDG asked me for better pictures of certain marks that suggested by-catch i.e. when a dolphin dies because it is caught up in a net by a trawler, dumped on deck and then thrown back in the water. So I went back to the beach but the Council had already removed her the previous evening. They are usually pretty on the ball about this. They are also always very helpful when I need to record a body that has been removed. This time I was actually escorted a few miles inland to where she was lying next to an enormous seal that had also washed up at the weekend. Biggest seal I have ever seen at around six foot and hefty. Poor chap. I got my photos.

The upshot of all that is that I began an online course to become more familiar with marks resulting from by-catch. But without a post mortem, its hard to determine cause of death. It may be she wasn’t the victim of by-catch, but of other, larger dolphins for, besides the regular rake marks on her skin – common dolphins often have the teeth marks of other common dolphins on their flesh – there were wide-set rake marks, so it is possible she was attacked by the larger, more thuggish bottlenose dolphin.

The rest of the week was all about work: covering for sick people, rushing around installing artworks in various locations, writing an article for a deadline, beginning an online University module as well as the by-catch training. I finally got out on the cliff again one evening when the sun peeked out from under the cloud. There were birds and boats but no dolphins. I did see a couple of whale blows though, about 5km off, just briefly before they travelled further out towards the horizon. It was nice.