We made our way to the South-West this year for Whale Tales 2023 to the beautiful and secluded location in CECAS, Leap, West Cork. The weekend was jam-packed with talks, discussions and interactive sessions from members of the IWDG team and invited speaks. CECAS was a wonderful venue with enough space to cater for 80+ attendees to discuss ideas and problem solve together.
The Night of the Humpback Whale
We began our weekend on the Friday evening with ‘the Night of the Humpback Whale!’. We had a viewing of ‘An Arctic Whale Tale’ by BlackSalt Media Productions with Nick Pfeiffer, Lionel French and Richard Kingston. This was followed by a fascinating account of the history of the Irish Humpback Whale catalog by Sightings Officer, Pádraig Whooley. Nick Masset, stalwart of the Whale Track project for many years then told us the story of how he began to watch whales from exceptionally beautiful coastal lookouts in West Kerry, gaining valuable knowledge and experience, and how this knowledge led to a spectacular day watching and collecting data on the humpbacks he encountered last year.
Saturday was the main event and was broken up as follows:
- Contributions from key speakers on leading conservation issues.
- Updates from IWDG Officers
- Strategic plan and Communications updates.
This year we looked at 2 key areas of interest, Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) and Offshore Wind with key speakers illustrating the challenges and processes involved in both.
Marine Protected Areas and Community Engagement
This session was led by Dolf Dhondt who represented Fair Seas and the Bantry Bay – Protect Our Native Kelp Forest campaign. Dolf gave a passionate account of his involvement with the campaign to halt the destruction of Kelp forests in Bantry bay and how to effectively engage with coastal communities. He stressed how ‘Every conversation you have makes a difference’, it’s an opportunity to make a difference Dolf got involved in the RNLI, he learnt how to scuba dive, so that he get a better understanding of the problem so that he could raise informed objections in the face of corporate adversity. ‘The marine environment is out of sight, and out of sight is out of mind’, that’s a problem, so you have to bring it into view for people, encourage them to see it and love it and protect. ‘ People need to see it, to be passionate about it, to be motivated to save it’.
Every conversation you have makes a difference
Dr. Sarah Kandrot from Green Rebel Marine gave a synopsis of the process involved in developing offshore renewables and a rundown of the history of renewable energy. She showed aerial photos taken during surveys and explained the high level of scrutiny on Windfarm development planning applications. We then had an impassioned discussion about Offshore renewables and the potential impacts they can have on the marine environment when not managed properly, what we as an organisation can do to help mitigate these effects, as well as the benefits offshore windfarms may have when managed properly.
Review of the Year:
During the day we had our usual updates from our officers which were packed with remarkable imagery and mind-bending statistics and the science and stories to go with them.
Sightings Review – Padraig Whooley, Sightings Officer
Padraig Whooley shared graphs showing and increased number of sightings being recorded again in 2022, with the usual suspects being reported and common and bottlenose dolphins with the highest recorded sightings. Larger whale species such as the Humpback and Fin Whale sightings were down from 2021, but this trend might change again for 2023, with early sightings of humpbacks off the SW coast just last month. Pádraig also reiterated how ‘Validation is the key’ to have a solid data for research and talked about the new Fin Whale Catalogue which is in progress under the Whale Track project with 53 unique animals currently included.
Strandings Review – Stephanie Levesque, Strandings Officer.
Steph explained how there was a reduction in strandings in 2022 after a sharp increase in the previous year, but 2023 is showing a return of high numbers, so watch this space! She emphasised the the importance of taking detailed images of stranded animals as this allows us to identify potential signs of bycatch. Our new stranding volunteer checklist was launched last year which is accessible via the Stranding members area. To access to all these resources become a member and login to our members resources area on the website.
Gemma O’Connor – Live Stranding Network coordinator
Our new Live Stranding Network coordinator Gemma’s illustrated how Mayo and Kerry are hotspots for live strandings and explained the topographical factors in these occurrences. She also gave insights into live stranding events that occurred in 2022 and how she coordinated the rescue efforts. Gemma then presented some interesting results of a recent survey with members of our stranding network, showing that over 70% of stranding network volunteers took skin samples and how the majority of volunteers would like to be on the call out list. Gemma is a great addition to the team!
Becky Dudley – Science Officer
Becky, who started the role last year gave us a whistle stop tour of her first year at IWDG, which included developing our policy work and creating a policy on Deep Sea Mining, creating a new data collection programme on Celtic Mist and establishing new international partnerships. Becky then gave us an update on the plans for 2023, with exciting things to come. Watch this space!
Sibéal Regan – Education & Outreach Officer
Education & Outreach Officer Sibéal Regan reported she has directly engaged with >7,500 people between March 2022 and 2023. This engagement was primarily with young people through initiatives such as Floating Classroom and collaborative workshops with Connemara Sea week, the Green Schools programme, the Marine Institute and the Natural History museum. However, tailored one-off talks and workshops with adults, coastal community groups and young people from disadvantaged areas also made up a significant portion of this reach. During the 2022/23 academic year, Sibéal also hosted fifteen TY and fifth-year students at the IWDG headquarters in Kilrush. Sibéal also announced the release of new educational resources that will be published later this year thanks to funding from the Heritage Council
TY and Fifth year students conducting field work while on placement with the IWDG.
Strategic Review, Communications & Membership
This event was all about hearing from our members and letting them know about ways in which IWDG aims to empower and engage with you all. Our Science Officer Becky gave a whistle top tour of the results of the IWDG Think-in which took place in December 2022 as we review our strategy and make a plan for the future. IT and Communications Officer, Trea Heapes then updated us all on how we are doing with all things relating to how we communicate with the public (members, non-members, 3rd-level universities and government agencies). From the floor, Membership Officer Frances Bermingham talked about how people can support the group outside the membership model and quizzed members for ideas on how membership could be improved. Finally, Education & Outreach Officer, Sibéal Regan presented the findings in the recent membership/local groups survey to find out how she can better support the activities of the 11 groups that are distributed throughout the island of Ireland.
This sessions of Whale Tales also provides an excellent opportunity to reflect on what aspects of the Outreach programme has been working well for members and what could be adapted and or changed to suit our members growing needs. Therefore the session was opened for discussion and members shared their thoughts and ideas and provided feedback on the direction they would like the programme to go. Based on this discussion, it was decided that a monthly calendar will be produced for local groups prompting them to do at least one effort watch in their local area per month (subject to weather). Resources such as PowerPoint presentations will also be available to members to support individuals interested in developing a community engagement aspect for their local group. IWDG officers will also carry out a feasibility exercise to see if optical equipment, i.e., spotting scopes, can be secured for local groups, similar to how specialised equipment has been sourced for members of the live stranding network.
Saturday ended with our AGM, where heard from our new chair Pat Hartigan and welcomed new member of the board, Sheila Stokes. The day did not stop there for everyone. Those of us who were staying at CECAS enjoyed a lovely meal followed by few sociable drinks and a bit of a sing-song!
Effort Watch: discussions and practical session
Fed and watered with some in-house IWDG entertainment, we kept our numbers strong for the Sunday where we launched into discussions around the Constant Effort Watch Scheme with lively interactions on the definition of what an ‘Effort Watch’ means.
We finished on a headland, where else! Sightings Officer, Pádraig Whooley who was on his home turf lead us to a nicely sunny Galley Head Viewing point, where some of the group saw harbour porpoise, a variety of feeding birds, with some even seeing their first Swallows and Sand Martin.
A massive thanks to everyone who joined us for the weekend.
The discussions, feedback and informal chats will help us to improve and expand on what we do! We are already looking forward to Whale Tales 2024!