A voyage aboard the R.V Celtic Mist, Bantry Bay to Dingle

Ahoy, Mateys! On a sunny Saturday afternoon in early September, a small group of eager and budding marine biologists gathered on the pier in Bantry Bay. We boarded the Celtic Mist with excitement and wonderment, uncertain of how our week together would unfold. As we unloaded our gear into our snug cabins with functional bunks, it became apparent that less truly is more when it comes to life onboard; it’s all about the experience!

Our Skipper, Paul, and First Mate, Linda, joined the vessel with our first mission. With the entire crew assembled, we delved into the serious business of provisioning for the week. After a quick trip to the local shop, we filled the galley with our haute cuisine ingredients. The challenge of cooking for eight people in the confined space of a ship was soon apparent, but Junior Marine Biologist, Aileen, and shipmate Ulrika whipped up a storm and served the first of many hearty meals. Over dinner, we shared our background experiences and began to get to know our fellow shipmates. To our delight and relief, we sensed that we would all get along very well.

The next morning, after a brief initiation to life on the Celtic Mist (let’s not mention the heads just yet), we gathered for a safety demonstration, familiarising ourselves with our life jackets and readying the lines to set sail. Just as we were about to depart, a local fisherman called us over to see a juvenile cat shark he had just caught. Jack sprang into action, providing us with a lesson on the anatomy and habitat of this elegant species before gently releasing it back into the glassy bay waters.

Before departure, our Chief Marine Biologist, Hélène, briefed us on the IWDG marine mammal observation protocol which we would use to gather our data throughout our survey leg. Her presentation was accessible to all, and even our budding marine biologist, Vincent, was able to apply the protocol without issue. Our task was essentially to take watch and record all that we observed in our section over a set period of time. In action, this was really exciting and gave our group a feeling of comradely from the beginning. We set off from the pier and after a short period of finding our sea legs we were straight into action.










Our first day at sea was spectacular. With clear skies and calm seas, we began our first transect in Bantry Bay. Binoculars in hand, focused, all observing and eagerly awaiting our first glimpse of a marine mammal in the bay. Within minutes, another friendly local came alongside us in his boat to point us towards the area in which the Northern Bottlenose Whales had just been sighted. Excitement grew as we detoured off the transect to see if we could spot this lost species of whale. Two individuals were sighted travelling parallel to our vessel, their backs and dorsal fins clearly confirming their species for us. As a group, we discussed our ideas about why they were in the area, what the ecosystem in Bantry Bay could be providing for them and whether they could move safely out of the bay. These conversations continued throughout the day and helped us to bond through our shared curiosity and interesting contributions. Another highlight of the day was observing Minke whales to our port and starboard, as they accompanied the Celtic Mist out along the Sheep’s Head Peninsula.

Things took an interesting twist when we were met by a local couple on a catamaran, they pointed us to a decomposing whale carcass which they had observed the previous day. The pale rust coloured trunk was unidentifiable on species level but was confirmed as a whale due to the size of remaining vertebrae by our necropsy expert, Ulrika. Pods of common dolphins and the occasional harbour porpoise lifted our spirits as we reestablished our observation protocol.

As we crossed the bay on our final transect of the day, we were elated by a shout from Hélène, confirming a Fin whale blow close to the vessel. With worsening weather conditions, all eyes scanned in all directions in hopes of spotting the second largest mammal on the planet, Fin whales. The first 40 nautical miles were eventful, exhilarating, and unforgettable. Thankfully, First Mate Linda kept the tea flowing and the brown bread buttered throughout the day. When we reached our sheltered anchorage at Castletownbere for the night, we all pitched in to prepare the vessel for the evening. With the anchor secure and another delicious meal prepared, we shared our experiences of the day around the dinner table. We were so buzzing from the day’s events that our cosy bunks were perfect for our first night of being lulled to sleep by the gentle sway of the ocean and water lapping against our cabin portholes.

Our next day was another stunner, this time the rolling swell was kicking in as we rounded Dursey Island and the nearby Bull, Calf and Cow islands of West Cork. The magnificent Atlantic was reminding us of its grandeur, and we were reminded of the importance of stowing our stuff and holding on the the ship with one hand, as the Celtic Mist danced through the waves. More wonderful sightings of Minke whales and common dolphins were almost overshadowed by another sighting of Fin whales feeding. As a cold weather front approached from the south, our day was brightened by a passing sunfish as we headed for our anchorage in the beautiful Bunaw Bay. With a sprinkle of rusty raindrops from the Saharan dust in the air and an eerily warm wind behind us, we set down for the night and consolidated our crew bond with an introduction to Qwirkle from Aileen and Hélène. Qwirkle quickly became the buzzword of the trip, and we wrangled it into all iterations of ship life for the next week. 

With the prospect of bad weather setting in, spirits were lifted by a sunrise delivery of fresh mussels from a local fisherman. The charts were checked, the forecasts were studied, and it was decided that marine mammal surveying would not be a safe option for the day. Instead, the menu of Moules-frites was assigned, the games were brought out and we settled down to soak in our wonderful natural surroundings. After a few days of limited showering, a splash into the bay waters was an essential way to round off our day with a swim. Surrounded by a glacial landscape dotted with evergreen trees and only a house or two in sight, the night sky shone spectacularly, with the Milky Way visible in all its glory. Below, the ocean’s bioluminescence created a blanket of blue stars around the ship, energised by the recent super moon. This incredible phenomenon greeted us every night of our journey, making our nightly toothbrushing ritual by the sea truly magical.

After 3 nights at anchor, with some marine surveying and hiking interspersed, we set sail for the Greater Skellig Hope Spot. Excitement grew once more in anticipation of seeing these jagged rocky outcrop islands at sea, home to one of the largest colonies of seabirds in Ireland with 74% of the national gannet population, and also home to our largest puffin colony.  With so much to see all around us, Skipper Paul made sure we weren’t hungry, serving up his hearty homemade soup. Jack, our onboard representative from Fair Seas informed us of the significance of the recent designation of Hope Spot by the global marine conservation movement Mission Blue, led by Her Deepness Dr Sylvia Earle. He also shared the important work Fair Seas are undertaking nationally in revitalising our Irish Seas. The sea served up its spectacular side once more and we enjoyed a true seafaring day together offshore. 

As we sailed past the tetrapod trackways of Valencia Island and headed toward Knightstown harbour, we reflected on the golden opportunity we have to protect our local environment and marine ecosystem in Ireland. With full hearts and racing minds, we took a final sunset swim, keeping an eye out for Lion’s mane jellyfish, which had been a common sight throughout the day. As the days counted down, our crew dwindled but our bond remained strong. We bid farewell to our lucky charm, Vincent, followed by Jack and then Paul. On our final day, the remaining crew (female strong) readied the vessel for handover to the incoming group. After almost 200nm sailed together, the small yacht we had boarded in Bantry Bay had transformed into our home and the heart of our sea adventure on the Southwest coast of Ireland. Experiences like this one aboard the R.V Celtic Mist, and the important work of the IWDG, give great hope to what can be achieved when people work together for a common good. 

Fair winds, 

Siobhán McLoughlin


We want to thanks our enthusiastic crew for helping with our scientific programme!

𝑇ℎ𝑖𝑠 𝑦𝑒𝑎𝑟𝑠 𝑠𝑢𝑟𝑣𝑒𝑦𝑠 𝑎𝑟𝑒 𝑏𝑒𝑖𝑛𝑔 𝑟𝑢𝑛 𝑖𝑛 𝑐𝑜𝑙𝑙𝑎𝑏𝑜𝑟𝑎𝑡𝑖𝑜𝑛 𝑤𝑖𝑡ℎ Fair Seas. 𝐷𝑢𝑟𝑖𝑛𝑔 𝑡ℎ𝑒 𝑠𝑒𝑎𝑠𝑜𝑛 𝐶𝑒𝑙𝑡𝑖𝑐 𝑀𝑖𝑠𝑡 𝑤𝑖𝑙𝑙 𝑏𝑒 𝑠𝑢𝑟𝑣𝑒𝑦𝑖𝑛𝑔 𝑡ℎ𝑒 𝑤𝑎𝑡𝑒𝑟𝑠 𝑜𝑓 𝑡ℎ𝑒 𝑆𝑜𝑢𝑡ℎ𝑤𝑒𝑠𝑡 𝐶𝑜𝑎𝑠𝑡 𝑎𝑛𝑑 𝐿𝑜𝑜𝑝 𝐻𝑒𝑎𝑑 𝑡𝑜 𝐾𝑒𝑛𝑚𝑎𝑟𝑒 𝐴𝑟𝑒𝑎𝑠 𝑜𝑓 𝐼𝑛𝑡𝑒𝑟𝑒𝑠𝑡 (𝐴𝑜𝐼) 𝑐𝑜𝑙𝑙𝑒𝑐𝑡𝑖𝑛𝑔 𝑣𝑖𝑡𝑎𝑙 𝑖𝑛𝑓𝑜𝑟𝑚𝑎𝑡𝑖𝑜𝑛 𝑜𝑛 𝑡ℎ𝑒 𝑚𝑎𝑟𝑖𝑛𝑒 𝑙𝑖𝑓𝑒 𝑖𝑛 𝑜𝑢𝑟 𝑤𝑎𝑡𝑒𝑟𝑠.