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Dublin: 13°C Friday 30 October 2020

In search of dolphins aboard Charlie Haughey's old yacht

The Irish Whale and Dolphin Group are making the most of the fine weather today, as they set off on their mission to survey the dolphin population in the North West

Celtic Mist – Pic: IWDG

A CREW OF experts and supporters are currently on a two-week mission surveying the population of bottlenose dolphins off the coast of Donegal and north Connacht.

Not a bad way to spend fortnight, you might think — especially considering the fine weather we’ve been enjoying today.

But — whatever it’s been like where you are, conditions in Donegal haven’t been the best since last weekend.

The mission launched last Sunday — but heavy seas and a large swell meant the craft had to remain moored in Rathmullan until conditions improved.

However, with the sun now splitting the stones pretty much everywhere — it was ‘anchors away’ this morning, and the crew rounded Tory Island at around 11am…

Images: Sunrise off the coast of Donegal, and Tory Island [IWDG]

So what are they up to? 

The number of bottlenose dophins in Irish coastal waters numbers at a “few thousand” cruise leader Dr Joanne O’Brien says.

The current survey will be targeting coastal dolphins — and the group will be using data compiled over the last number of years to track the movements of individual mammals spotted around Ireland or further afield.

“We’ve found that dolphins we identified off Cork and Galway have also shown up as far afield as Scotland, at the Inner Hebrides, and southern England,” O’Brien says.

They’re basically circumnavigating Ireland and the UK. You’d find individuals in different areas all around the coasts.

Studies have shown that coastal dolphins have a distinct set of habits and movements, and that they tend not to interact with the static population of dolphins in the Shannon Estuary, according to O’Brien.

On patrol this morning [IWDG]

And any joy so far?

Considering they’ve been moored in Rathmullan for most of the week, it’s been slim pickings in terms of sightings as yet.

“Things are looking up now, and the fine weather makes conditions perfect,” says O’Brien, adding that they’ve just spotted a small group of porpoises near Tory.

The first leg of the journey comes to an end at Killybegs on Saturday, with a second crew then taking over to helm the vessel down the coast to Galway.

O’Brien is also encouraging amateur spotters to send their photos and accounts of sightings to the group — details of how to do so can be found at the IWDG website.

It’s very important that people who have pictures send them into us. We can use those images and compare them to our catalogues.

A wreck along the Donegal coast, pictured earlier this week [IWDG]

And what are they all doing on Charlie Haughey’s old yacht?

The vessel, long associated with the late Fianna Fáil Taoiseach, was donated to the IWDG by the Haughey family — and, following a refit, officially launched Celtic Mist as their flagship vessel in 2012.

The 56ft steel-hulled ketch — built in France 1974 — is now used to teach group members how to survey whales and dolphins, and for dedicated research projects like this one.

The IWDG are “always looking for new members” O’Brien says.

“That’s what keeps us afloat.”

Read: “Don’t swim with this dolphin” islanders warned, as ‘Dusty’ changes location

Read: A new ‘solitary’ dolphin’s moved to Irish waters… swimmers are being urged to keep their distance

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