Whales, Dolphins & Porpoises

NPWS is currently funding a scheme for the recording of standardised scientific data from cetaceans that strand around the Irish coastline.  The scheme operated by the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group employs a countrywide network of trained volunteers who may be placed to visit stranded carcasses and ultimately relay information on stranded cetaceans to a central co-ordinator.

A land-based monitoring programme for cetaceans is under way at eight prominent locations around the Irish coast.  Using experienced observers and a rigorous data collection protocol, sighting records are being collected and validated from cetacean species encountered during monthly watches at these locations.

A set of regional survey blocks lying approximately 6-12 nautical miles off the coast are being surveyed using dedicated line-transect survey methods.  Targeting the summer months, which coincide with the breeding season for several species and improved sea conditions, a standardised survey design is used to facilitate density/abundance estimation and data comparison.

Surveys of sites designated for Annex II cetacean species (i.e., Bottlenose dolphin Tursiops truncatus and Harbour porpoise Phocoena phocoena) are continuing, the most recent of which was a 2010 dolphin population survey within the Lower River Shannon SAC (see Marine Reports).  Ongoing monitoring objectives include density/abundance estimation, investigation of ecological parameters (e.g., breeding occurrence, behaviour, habitat use) and interactions with human activities within the sites.

NPWS is currently co-funding a PhD project at University College Cork investigating the population ecology of Bottlenose dolphins in the west of Ireland.  The overall aim of the project is to gain a detailed insight into the population dynamics and ecology of a large, genetically distinct dolphin community that inhabits a number of key locations in the Conamara-Mayo area and possibly ranges further afield.

NPWS continues to provide support to government partners in relation to the interactions between cetaceans and human activities.