Field work hampered by whales and weather

19th Sep 2005 Now in year 3 of the IWDG's “Large Whale Project” we embarked on three days of field work between 14th -17th Sept. 2005, in West Cork. Alas, conditions were far from ideal for much of the period and work was hampered by a combination of weather and the near absence of whales in the study area.

On Wed. 14th Sept. we chartered Whale Watch West Cork's, MV Voyager, and in moderate conditions we successfully sampled phytoplankton at six “stations”, taking water temperature and salinity readings. At each “station” bird spot counts and fish sampling were carried out. Our only encounter with a fin whale was too brief and distant for any biopsy or photo ID to be carried out.

Day 2: 15th Sept. was with Colin Barnes on the MV Holly Jo and despite the poor forecast we headed out later in the day and focused our effort on finding whales. It became clear after many hours of scanning and searching the usual hotspots, that the whales were still absent in the area. We did find a single fin whale, but the conditions and distant nature of the sighting rendered the encounter unsuitable for further work, although it was good for those on board to have the opportunity to glance the 2nd largest animal on earth, even if it appeared as a distant vapour plume on the horizon.

Day 3 was cancelled due to disimproving conditions. The reality is that offshore marine mammal field-work can be cruel with both the animals and weather conspiring against you. For this reason the work needs to be carried out over many seasons and years, which gives researchers a more realistic time frame to collect the information needed to answer the big questions.

So the team broke up camp on Saturday morning and you guessed it, Dave Wall and Padraig Whooley went out on a whale watching trip with Colin Barnes on Sat. afternoon 17th Sept in flat calm seas and were treated to sightings of harbour porpoises, numerous common dolphins at least 2-3 minke whales and wait for it…..4 fin whales at close quarters!

Sometimes, life can be cruel. But it's good to see the whales returning again and we'll hopefully have some better luck with them in October when we return to study them. A big thank you to the National Parks and Wildlife Service conservation rangers who took the time out to join IWDG during the week.

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