Tuesday, 14 January 2014

COTF5: Introduction

On Monday 20th January 2014, a team of 20 scientists will embark on a two week long survey of the Irish continental shelf. This will be the fifth dedicated 'Cetaceans on the Frontier' survey to take place on-board the R.V. Celtic Explorer since 2009, supported under the Marine Institutes competitive Ship-time scheme and will be led by Chief Scientist, Dr. Joanne O'Brien of the GMIT Marine & Freshwater Research Centre. This years team of scientists and students from the Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology, Irish Whale and Dolphin Group, BirdWatch Ireland, Queen's University Belfast and Universit√© de La Rochelle will aim to carry out a variety of scientific investigations around some of the most interesting and important marine habitats in Irish waters.

Proposed survey transects for Cetaceans on the Frontier 5

R.V. Celtic Explorer

Primarily, the survey is focused on recording the distribution and abundance of cetaceans through visual and acoustic techniques. Records will also be taken of all other megafauna encountered such as turtles, sharks, tuna or sunfish.

Blows from a group of 3 fin whales seen during Cetaceans on the Frontier 3 © Clo Collins

Offshore bottlenose dolphins, photographed c.150km West of Ireland during Cetaceans on the Frontier 3 © Joanne O'Brien

If the opportunity arises or weather permits, the IWDG RIB 'Muc Mhara' will be launched to try to gather biopsy samples from cetaceans encountered. These samples can be used for genetic and pollutant analyses and give vital information on our offshore species which are often hard to encounter. We will also deploy C-PODs (acoustic devices) close to the continental shelf to record dolphin species in the area over the survey period.

Long-finned Pilot Whales investigating the R.V. Celtic Explorer during Cetaceans on the Frontier 3 © Joanne O'Brien

IWDG RIB 'Muc Mhara' being loaded onto the R.V. Celtic Explorer © Conor Ryan

A seabird team from BirdWatch Ireland will undertake a visual survey recording the distribution and abundance of seabirds encountered. Additionally, a micro-plastics team from GMIT will filter seawater whilst the ship is underway as the presence of such is recognised as an environmental pollutant with our understanding of its effect on organisms still limited. During night-time hours, a phytoplankton and zooplankton team will take over and carry out vertical hauls with specialised nets as these tiny organisms form the basis of the food chain which supports larger predators such as cetaceans and seabirds. Additionally the night-time team will generate conductivity, temperature and depth (CTD) profiles of the water column, by collecting temperature and salinity recordings at various depths.

A 'blue' morph Fulmar, a winter visitor to Irish waters from the Arctic seen on Cetaceans on the Frontier 4 © Alex Borawska

Plankton sample from Cetaceans on the Frontier 4; a Euphausiid krill & two copepods © Fergal Glynn

CTD being lowered for sampling © Emilia Chorazyczewska

This collection of various datasets is extremely important to piece together what is happening in these offshore ecosystems, and will contribute towards Ireland meeting requirements of the EU Habitats and Birds Directives aiming to ensure the effective conservation of these important offshore ecosystems.

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