Big increase in strandings in Ireland

The Irish Whale and Dolphin Group has said that the past year has seen a big increase in strandings of whales and dolphins compared to previous years.

A total of 160 stranding and 1,565 sighting reports were logged during 2011, according to group co-ordinator Dr Simon Berrow.

This is compares to 92 strandings in 2010, Dr Berrow said.

Bad weather hampered sightings, but the total was the third highest since the group set up its recording scheme in 1991 – also the year when Ireland’s whale and dolphin sanctuary was declared by former taoiseach Charles Haughey.

The 2011 statistics included a very high peak of common dolphin strandings during February and a high number of porpoise strandings during the winter.

The group has received samples from the 13m (43ft) sperm whale which was washed up on Connemara’s Omey island last week.

It has become such a tourist attraction that an estimated 8,000 people have already visited it.

There have been traffic jams on the minor routes to and from Claddaghduff, closest mainland point to the island which can be reached at low tide.

“I don’t think we’ll ever see anything like this – and families are still coming, having travelled for miles,” Claddaghduff resident Feicín Mulkerrin said yesterday.

The sperm whale, known as the planet’s largest predator, was discovered by Mr Mulkerrin on Trá Chúil on the south side of Omey island.

Mr Mulkerrin, who works for the Office of Public Works on maintaining High Island, was checking cattle on Omey when he came across the carcase, which was still bleeding heavily.

National Parks and Wildlife Service ranger Dermot Breen, who examined the mammal, estimated that it may have died several weeks before.

The sperm whale inhabits deep ocean areas and tends to die offshore. Heavy storms over the past fortnight are believed to have washed the whale in, but its carcase has already begun to deteriorate.

Galway County Council officials are expected to make a final decision on disposal early this week, but options are limited.

Incineration of such a large mammal could prove difficult for environmental reasons, and the beach area is both confined and rock strewn.

“It’s very likely that the beach would be too small and without sufficient depth,” Mr Mulkerrin said. “At least weather is on our side, as the whale hasn’t begun to smell yet.”

The last recorded sperm whale found on the coastline was a live stranding at Cunniger spit near Dungarvan, Co Waterford, in late August. The mammal survived for just a day.

Previous to that was a live stranding in Donegal in 2007.

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