Unusual Strandings in West Kerry?15th Jul 2016
Information recorded on the sightings and strandings databases can be used in short- (is there an issue now that needs to be raised?), medium- (end of year figues and reports to agencies, what species? numbers? etc) and long-term (compare year to year, trends, unusual mortality events). If we look at minke whale strandings in 2016, we can see five confirmed records to date, which is not too unusual. However, a closer look shows that a minimum of three minke whales have been recorded from Dingle Bay between April and July which definitely is unusual (five reports were received but one was unidentifiable and one was thought to be a duplicate record). There are 12 recorded minke whale strandings for Kerry on the entire strandings database and three of these have occurred within the last three months. All three appeared to be juveniles with lengths reported as 3m, 4.5m and 6m. Minke whales are relatively common in the waters around Dingle Bay and the Blasket Islands during the summer months but as yet we have no indication as to why there is an increase in the number of dead juvenile animals recorded here this year.
photo credit: Jimmy Bambury
Patrick Lyne (IWDG Marine Mammal Observer Coordinator), who is currently offshore at the moment, reported that two Dutch supertrawlers (Van Der Zwan and Zeeland) are currently operating c.30km west of Cork/Kerry. Based on the increased numbers of common dolphin strandings (some of which showed signs of bycatch) in early 2016 and 2014 which were associated in time and place with the presence of supertrawlers such as these, IWDG continues to monitor strandings of live and dead cetaceans on the Irish coast. While no unusual strandings of common dolphins were recorded recently, unsubstantiated media reports in the last couple of days report that three common dolphins (one with rope on its tail) were found dead on the shores of west Kerry recently. While this is of interest, it is unfortunate that none of these strandings were reported to the IWDG Cetacean Stranding Scheme as the information can be treated as 'hear-say' by critics (not helped by the photo accompanying the article of a dolphin species which lives in the waters around New Zealand!!). The advantage of reporting strandings (and sightings) to IWDG is that the databases are graded and validated (published in the Irish Naturalist's Journal), so when an issue arises (as in the common dolphin strandings earlier this year for example), we can stand over the information we have regarding numbers/trends/species etc and be confident in the facts when dealing with government agencies and others. The supertrawler/common dolphin bycatch issue has been ongoing since early 2014 and is become very noticeable in January and February but it seems that in the last week or so, an opportunity to provide documented and validated evidence for an association between an increase in common dolphin strandings and the presence of large trawlers offshore may have been lost.
IWDG Strandings Officer