PReCAST - new IWDG research project

30th Apr 2008 Policy and Recommendations from Cetacean Acoustics, Surveying and Tracking (PReCAST) is a partnership between the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group (IWDG) and the Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology (GMIT).

This three-year project (2008-2011) aims to provide robust scientific data to support conservation policy and provide guidance to state agencies in implementing national and international obligations and in so doing to build national capacity in the area of automated assessment and monitoring wildlife populations. PReCAST is funded by the Marine Institute under the NDP Sea Change initiative and the National Parks and Wildlife Service.

Background to PReCAST

Irish waters provide a range of habitats for cetaceans with 24 species recorded to date including at least 12 species, which are thought to calve within the EEZ. This diversity reflects the range of marine habitats from shallow continental shelf waters to deep-water canyons, offshore banks, shelf slopes and abyssal waters. Marine mammals represent around 50% of the native mammal fauna of Ireland and thus Ireland has a significant conservation obligation to all cetaceans and their habitats. In 1991 recognition of the importance of Ireland for cetaceans, the Irish government declared all Irish waters (within the EEZ) to be a whale and dolphin sanctuary.

All cetacean species occur on Annex IV of the Habitats Directive and are thus entitled to strict protection including prevention of deliberate capture or killing, prevention of deliberate disturbance, prevention of deterioration of breeding or resting sites, prevention of capture or sale and a requirement to monitor the incidental capture or killing or these species. Under the Habitats Directive, member states are required to put in place a comprehensive and ongoing monitoring programme to ensure favourable conservation status for all species in Irish waters. The European Court of Justice (ECJ) recently ruled that the Irish government had failed to ‘put in place a comprehensive, adequate, ongoing monitoring programme for cetaceans that could enable a system of strict protection for those species to be devised'.

Tracking dolphins in the Shannon estuary ©Simon Berrow/SDWF


WP1 involves extensive surveying of offshore waters to determine the distribution and relative abundance of cetaceans. Eight months at sea per annum are planned under PReCAST to survey areas or seasons with poor or no coverage. In WP2 we will develop passive acoustic monitoring (PAM) for dolphins and porpoises. We plan to acquire two years of PAM data at three study areas: Shannon estuary will be used to monitor bottlenose dolphins, while the Blasket Islands SAC and Galway Bay will be used to monitor for the presence of both bottlenose dolphin and porpoises.

Under WP3 we will develop the use of bio-telemetry in the study of marine megafauna in Ireland. Recent tagging studies of leatherback turtles and common seals have shown the significant potential of this technique in obtaining data on the movements of marine megafauna, however to date there has been no attempt to tag a cetacean in Ireland. We will be attempting to deploy Time-Depth–Recorders and satellite tags on fin whales off the south coast of Ireland during the winter.

Fin whale feeding©Padraig Whooley/IWDG

Finally WP4 attempts to pull together a lot of the work carried out under PReCAST and other surveys in the Celtic sea to explore the link between cetaceans and their prey. We will use GIS to explore the distribution and relative abundance of fin whales and common dolphins and seven years of fish survey data from the Marine Institute Fisheries Service Celtic Sea Herring stock assessm

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