The Celtic Mist 2024 season has begun!

We are back for a new season of our scientific program aboard the Celtic Mist!

Like 2023, every week a new crew will help survey Irish coastal waters and more specifically Areas of Interest (AOI) for Marine Protected Areas identified by Fair Seas and the IWDG. This first part of the season is focus on the Galway Bay and Islands, Mayo to Shelf Edge, Donegal to Sligo AOI. Collecting crucial marine mammal data is our goal as it’s essential to know better and protect our waters and marine wildlife.

Embarking on a marine mammal survey aboard the Celtic Mist is more than just an ocean adventure—it’s a journey into the heart of marine conservation and the sailing world at the same time. This is an account of our first week spent sailing the Celtic Mist, surveying the rich marine life of the Irish Sea.

Leg1: Kilrush to Rossaveal. Our crew members: 3 IWDG members, Clara, Joseph, Thomas/ two marine biologists Aisha, Hélène/ skipper Pat and first mate Robbie.

In Kilrush, the anticipation was palpable as everyone arrived Saturday afternoon ready to begin our week-long voyage. But first things first, Hélène briefed the crew on our survey goals and protocols and marine mammals that we might spot. Our mission for the week was clear: to document the presence of marine mammals and collect data on their behaviours. After shopping for groceries, Pat briefed us on a very important parts of the trip while we had pizza and fish n chips for dinner: safety, this week passage plan, and the weather forecast. We all went to bed (or bunk) excited about the next sailing days.

Sunday was our long first sailing day from Kilrush to Inis Oírr, one of the three Aran Islands. We had nice sunny weather as we sailed down the Shannon estuary on our way out. These calm conditions were perfect for a first day as we need to get our sea legs. Equipped with binoculars and cameras, we were prepared to spend long hours scanning the waves. During the afternoon, we had two sightings: a group of bottlenose dolphin near Loop Head who unfortunately had no interest in our boat as they swam in the opposite direction, and later a group of common dolphin. During this second sighting everyone enjoyed the dolphins bow-riding and playing with waves for a few minutes. We continued our survey as Aisha cooked healthy tacos for dinner. We enjoyed beautiful orange-pink lights as we arrived in Inis Oírr just before dark. Clara, Hélène, Joseph, Robbie and Thomas decided to go for a very refreshing swim to end this nice day.

Early Monday morning, the calm waters provided ideal conditions for spotting cetaceans so we decided to go west to the 100m depth contour. Our two first encounters close to the islands were with a peaceful harbour porpoise and several minutes later a grey seal. Unfortunately, the fog decided to join us midday as we got closer to our waypoint. Visibility was getting poorer, but we still managed to briefly spot two basking sharks in the fog thanks to a calm sea. This flat seas and blanket of sea fog made for a strange but peaceful ambiance. Impossible to see more than 200m from the boat, we decided to go back closer to the coast where it was hopefully clearer. We had a busy early afternoon; we spotted active pods of common dolphins, adults, juveniles and calves, as they came to say hello and bow-ride the Celtic Mist. Their acrobatics and synchronized swimming drew gasps of delight from everyone on board. We could even hear some of the dolphins whistling at the bow. We ended our afternoon by sailing near the Cliffs of Moher (head in the mist) enjoying a nice cheese plate (thanks Aisha!). We arrived in Doolin later that day after a couple more sightings of common dolphins and enjoyed a curry cooked by Clara and Thomas. It was again a long day and everyone went to bed tired but happy.

We got up early Tuesday morning as the conditions were again perfect to spot cetaceans. With each passing day, our crew became more and more comfortable with protocols and data collection methods. We maintained a meticulous log of sightings, noting the species, number of individuals, GPS coordinates, and behaviours. We had a busy morning. We spotted again many pods of playful common dolphin riding the bow waves and seeming to observe us as intently as we were observing them. As we approached the 100m depth contour that day, we observed marine birds like gannets, fulmars, and puffins. Sadly, the weather took a turn as the wind got stronger on our way back to the Aran Islands in the afternoon. Because of the wind more waves and white caps were observed, but our now more experienced crew still managed to spot dolphins. We finished our day at Inis Mór with a nice dinner discussing the day’s findings and plotting for the next day on the island as the forecast was too bad for surveying.

Wednesday morning started later than previous days as we planned to spend the day visiting the island. We went for a nice morning swim and had a shower (first of the week!). Our Skipper Pat looked at the updated forecast and decided it was safer to go to Rossaveal now as the conditions were getting worse on Thursday. This is life on Celtic Mist, plans can always change and not every day is smooth sailing! We managed to cross Galway Bay with choppy seas testing our resilience. Conditions were too poor to survey, but despite the challenging conditions, our spirits remained high. The rough weather offered a beautiful opportunity to observe Manx shearwaters surfing the wind just above the waves without a flap.

We arrived in Rossaveal and spent the rest of the afternoon playing a funny board game, Qwirkle. Some of the crew enjoyed a nice walk while Pat cooked us diner, a tasty plate of pasta. And after dinner, we had another even funnier game of Qwirkle as our competitive skipper Pat wanted to win this one… And he did! (He ended second first time beaten by Hélène so he wanted his revenge.)

This was our last evening on Celtic Mist. Unfortunately the forecast was bad news for the next and last sailing day with the high winds increasing.

Friday morning all crew gathered their belongings, helped clean the boat and after a nice cup of tea or coffee it was time to say goodbye. The week had been a blend of hard work, discovery, and camaraderie. We logged 29 sightings in total of more than 110 animals, spent 24 hours and close to 230km on visual effort (searching for animals), collected important data, and fostered a deeper connection with the marine environment.

To all crew members, as Joseph said: thanks for making this misty week whaley incredible!

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.

Hélène Quévreux

IWDG Celtic Mist Biologist