Shocking rise in cetacean strandings

4th Sep 2013

It isn't often that we in IWDG go for words like 'shocking' in the title for a news article but as I sit here looking at the numbers of cetacean strandings over the last few years, I do find the facts ringing alarm bells, and the worst part is not knowing what is, or are, the reasons for the changes. If you have the time and interest, have a look at the 'advanced search' facility in the strandings database section of the website and compare figures for the last few years.

Now here's a thing - numbers and figures can appear boring and a bit 'dry', but think of it another way, those facts and figures represent stranded (and usually dead) cetaceans and over the years are useful indicators of the health or otherwise of whales, dolphins and porpoises in Irish waters. While individual live stranding cetaceans are an emotive issue and generally attract a lot of media and public attention, we may be neglecting a bigger picture and unless the trend in cetacean strandings reverses over the coming years, further research will be needed to figure out why numbers are increasing.

Here's a brief overview to give some idea of what I mean. (figures from 1 January to 4 September for each year unless otherwise specified)

2012 was a record year for cetacean strandings reported in Ireland with a total of 175 for the entire year. As of 4 September 2013, with almost four full months until the end of the year, we have received 157 records whereas up to 4 September 2012 there were 128 recorded strandings. Same period in 2011? 98 reports. And in 2010, 53. So strandings so far in 2013 are up by nearly 25% on what was the 'record' year of 2012 and up by 60% on 2011. Live strandings are also up with 19 reported to date in 2013 compared to 15 (2012), 8 (2011) and 12 (2010).

Common dolphins have been the main losers with 10 in 2010, 35 in 2011, 35 in 2012, rising to 55 so far in 2013. Harbour porpoise strandings have risen from 16 in 2010 and 20 in 2011 to 35 in 2012 and 32 in 2013. Recorded strandings of long-finned pilot whales have increased significantly from 1 in 2010, to 8 in 2011, rising to 18 in both 2012 and 2013 and figures for bottlenose dolphins are also up from zero in 2010 to 4 in 2011, 10 in 2012 and 7 in 2013. It is curious to note that the trend of increasing numbers of recorded strandings applies to a range of species and to both live and dead strandings.

 

Mick O'Connell,

IWDG Strandings Officer