Whale of a Job

7th Nov 2018

A group of people in Ireland interested in whales and dolphins met 28 years ago in Dublin. They formed the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group to try and improve recording of whales, dolphins and porpoise. Although we knew Irish waters were important for whales and dolphins we didn’t know where and when they occurred or whether populations were increasing or decreasing. Little did we know we were setting up one of the longest running “citizen science” schemes in the country.  28 years later our schemes have recorded 28,000 sightings from all around the island of Ireland including offshore waters, and 3,845 strandings on all Irish coasts. All records are painstakingly validated to ensure the records are robust and the data good. We can now identify trends. We know humpback whales are increasing in number in Irish coastal waters, we know north Dublin supports the largest densities of harbour porpoise in Ireland, we know the number of strandings is increasing, driven by a consistent regular peak in common dolphins during the winter and can identify unusual stranding events. After 25 years we have recorded a new species, the 25th to be recorded in Ireland- a Bowhead Whale in Carlingford Lough. Our recording schemes are used to inform planning, identify conservation actions and support marine tourism. They have also introduced hundreds of people to biological recording and the rich marine biodiversity in Ireland and have launched many careers in marine biology and research.

 Sei whale off Ventry, Co Kerry. Photo by Nick Massett

The IWDG recording schemes have been successful due to a number of factors but fundamentally they are based on mutual respect between the recorder and the IWDG. Respect for the time, effort and commitment recorders put in to visit stranded animals or carry out watches and report sightings, and respect that the IWDG will treasure the record, add value to it by combining with other data, and use it to support research, conservation and to raise awareness. IWDG support the recording networks through providing resources to aid identification and recording, by organising training courses and watches and providing access to the data through the IWDG website. We have just launched new browsers on www.iwdg.ie to enable access to more stranding and sighting records. However, we are reliant on a relatively small but dedicated core of recorders. In 2017, more people reported strandings than there were stranding events (265 stranding events were recorded by a total of 360 people), with multiple reports of the same stranding increasing each year, however around 10% of our recorders provide around 70% of the approximately 1,500 sighting records submitted each year to the IWDG.

Our recording schemes need more support. Citizen science schemes cost money to run. Who is going to fund the IWDG for the next 20 years, a time of huge predicted changes due to climate chaos and ecosystem collapse. Funding is a challenge to all biological recording schemes but with continued respect and engagement with the citizens of Ireland and the commitment of IWDG members and officers, we intend to continue to run these recording schemes to support the conservation and awareness of whales and dolphins in Ireland.


Dr Simon Berrow


This Article appeared in the November Edition of the Marine Times and featured on This Island Nation





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