Celtic Mist tours the Aran Islands

13th May 2016

For the past three days the Celtic Mist and its crew have been surveying the waters around the Aran Islands for whales, dolphins and other marine wild-life. We have had a very exciting few days  with sightings of humpbacks, minke whales and common dolphins, we also encountered many basking sharks, a couple of grey seals, and a harbour porpoise. The IWDG members on-board have been very busy gathering a range of data for photo I.D. catalogues and recording the date, time and location of each sighting. We also managed to opportunistically gather slime samples from four Basking sharks which will be used for genetic analysis by the Irish Basking Shark Study Group.

Photo credit to Enda McKeogh

One of the more exhilarating sightings took place outside of Gregory Sound between Inis Mór and Inis Meáin and again was initiated by the sight of circling, diving seabirds such as Gannets and Gulls. We approached, with common dolphins riding our bow, what seemed to be a bait ball – a collaborative feeding frenzy between cetaceans and seabirds, all feeding from a large shoal of fish near the surface of the water. We watched from a safe, non-intrusive distance as 100+ birds dived into the water where 50+ common dolphins, a minke whale, and a humpback whale all lunged and fed on the large shoal of small fish. We stood amazed as we witnessed a rarely seen moment of food-web interaction. The wondrous and intense feeding performance lasted for over an hour until the top predators dispersed and the shoal of fish was most likely a considerable amount smaller.

Photo credit to Catherine O'Sullivan

As we returned to Inis Mór each evening, exhausted and ecstatic, we were lucky to be welcomed by locals to exchange stories of where the Celtic Mist had been and what we had encountered along the way. A beautiful island, home to some very friendly people, eager to learn about the IWDG cause and happy to help in any way possible; be it fishermen calling over the radio to point us in the direction of basking sharks, or hospitable tourist offices and publicans who offered to pass on the word of our work to visitors to the island. A special mention of our appreciation to Geároid Brown who treated us to a private showing of the culturally rich film, The Man of Aran – filmed in 1939 documenting the hardships and merits of Life on the Aran islands.

We are currently in Galway city where we will be moored for a few days. We will be meeting with all who come to visit – giving out information on where we have been, what we have seen, as well as our plans for the next few weeks. A new crew will be coming on board as this team disembarks and we wish them the best of luck on their jouney further north. For the previous six days the team that first gathered in Fenit have all been truly wonderful crew-mates, some of the most pleasant and genuine people that I have had the pleasure of spending time at sea with. We have all shared responsibilities in cooking, cleaning, keeping lookout and keeping each other in high-spirits with laughter and banter. A very warm thank you to our talented skipper Padraic De Bhaldraithe, and to everyone on-board who contributed to such a wonderful and educational experience.  I hope the rest of this celebratory whale and dolphin sanctuary anniversary cruise is as successful as this first leg, and there will be smooth seas for all sailors and healthy seas for all animals.

Blog by Gary Kett