A few weeks ago, IWDG reached an important milestone with the sightings counter passing the 40,000 marks. But more interesting than the actual number, which as of today stands at 40,092 records, is the shortening interval between each 10,000 records.
If you consider the IWDG was set up in 1990, it took us 17 years to reach our 10,000th record in August 2007, but only six years to reach the 20,000th mark in June 2013. This level of reporting was maintained, as it took another six years to achieve our 30,000th record by July 2019. It’s important to bear in mind that this was during the period of quite serious disruption to our website which was hacked in 2015 and it took us a few years to get the recording scheme back on track. But with new systems in place and our Reporting App established and firing on all cylinders, we can report that our current 10,000 sighting milestone has been reached in a little over four years. So, from 17 years to just four years, that’s a reasonable reflection on the rude health and reach of the sighting scheme.
But the actual number of sighting reports sent to IWDG will be an even higher number and our best estimate is that it would be closer to 45,000 records. The reason for this discrepancy is that a single sighting may comprise an amalgamation of multiple reports sent into us of the same event from several recorders. For instance, on November 16th there was a report of a small group of c.3 common dolphins in an unusually tight spot at Jacob’s Island, Lough Mahon, in inner Cork harbour. But on the same date we received similar reports and saw footage on social media of a small group of dolphins some from Cobh, others from in the River Lee itself, and in all probability these were likely to have been the same animals and so in these situations we typically amalgamate the record into a single generic sighting that gives us the best detail extracted from all the records, and of course we acknowledge all the recorders. The main rationale for this is to avoid populating the database with duplicates of the same event. It’s not an exact science and we won’t always get it right, but the timing, location, species, and group size will generally give us a good idea when reports are already up on the system.
It will be interesting to see when we reach the 50,000 record landmark; which if the current trend continues, should be some time around Spring/Summer 2027. By this time, we may be looking at a very different seascape to today’s. Will we have meaningful MPA’s in place that are something other than paper parks? Will we have woken up to the climate crises and decided to reluctantly embrace new green alternatives in offshore waters? What will our fishing fleet look like, or will we have one at all? And how will all these pressing matters impact on the species and mix of Cetacea being reported to us? Given the rate of change in the marine, we are unlikely to have to wait anything like the 25 years for our 25th species, (bowhead whale off Carlingford Lough in May 2016).
While I’ve no doubt that all our current “usual suspects” will still be using Irish waters, it’s very likely they’ll be showing up in new areas. It’s also quite likely that as we lose some species that have pushed further north in search of prey in colder waters, that the void they leave will be filled by the new kids on the cetacean block. So, when you venture up onto the cliffs or offshore in the coming years, best to keep an open mind. IWDG will have a spot prize for the recorder of first validated Irish sighting of Bryde’s whale, false killer whale, narwhal, Frazer’s dolphins, or a host of other species that may be seeking fresh pastures in Ireland’s coastal waters.
By Pádraig Whooley, IWDG Sightings Officer