Monday, 5 March 2012

COTF3 Days 10 & 11: Returning Home

Our Sunday morning transects started some 30 nautical miles south of Hook Head, Co. Wexford. This was the second day of our inshore survey and final day of recording for the expedition overall. We targeted major headlands between Hook Head and Roche's Point at the mouth of Cork Harbour. During this survey the cetacean team recorded a single large baleen whale sp. (likely a Fin Whale) very close to shore south-west of Tramore, several groups of Common Dolphins, Harbour Porpoises, as well as one sighting of four of the resident Bottlenose Dolphins in the mouth of Cork Harbour.

The seabird team had sightings of typical inshore species not seen during the offshore leg of the expedition such as Great Black-backed Gull, Herring Gull, Common Gull, Red-Throated Diver, Shag, Cormorant, Razorbill & Guillemot. Other birds of note included a Manx Shearwater & 'Blue' Fulmar.

Strong North-westerly winds coming off the mainland made observations difficult at times for both teams. On Saturday night the zooplankton team completed 2 stations but unfortunately didn't connect with the hoped for barrel jellyfish off Rosslare.

Hook Head lighthouse (c) Lilian Lieber

R.V. Celtic Explorer (c) Lilian Lieber

The R.V. Celtic Explorer made her way into Cork Harbour at 18:45 on Sunday evening. The Cetaceans on the Frontier III Survey achieved more than anyone could have hoped for. All three teams collected extremely valuable data which will provide a solid baseline for future monitoring.

I wish to thank everyone for their support during our expedition. I would also like to especially thank the crew of the R.V. Celtic Explorer for making all of the scientists feel at home and for assisting us in this successful research expedition. To my fellow researchers, it was an absolute pleasure meeting and working with you. I hope to see you all again next year for Cetaceans on the Frontier Expedition IV!  

Chief Scientific officer Joanne O'Brien (right) and 2nd Scientific Officer, Conor Ryan (left) (c) Lilian Lieber

The Cetaceans on the Frontier 3 research team (c) Lilian Lieber

Basking Shark Scientist: Lilian Lieber

Seabird Team: Jackie Hunt, Derek McLoughlin, Eamonn O'Sullivan and Niall Keogh.

Plankton/Jellyfish Team: Catherine O'Sullivan, Fergal Glynn and John Power.

Cetacean Team: Dr. Joanne O'Brien, Conor Ryan, Clo Collins, Dave Williams, Enda McKeogh, Laurence Manning, Mareike Volkenandt, Róisín Pinfield, Randal Counihan, Paddy O'Dwyer, Suzanne Beck and Teresa Martin. 

~ For the Cetaceans on the Frontier III Survey this is Teresa Martin signing off. ~

The Cetaceans on the Frontier III survey was supported under the Marine Institutes’ competitive ship-time scheme, funded through the Marine Research Sub-programme of the National Development Plan 2007–2013, as part of the Sea Change strategy.

Press release:

Saturday, 3 March 2012

COTF3 Day 9: Land Ho!

Last night we made our way inshore to conduct coastal transects targeting major headlands from Cape Clear (West Cork) to Ram Head (Waterford). The first day of this inshore survey provided numerous Common Dolphin sightings for the cetacean team.

Common Dolphins off West Cork (c) Conor Ryan

The seabird team noted lower numbers of GannetsKittiwakes and Fulmars in this area compared to offshore counts, whilst  6 Manx Shearwaters & 6 Puffins provided further interest. A total of 7 species were added to the expedition list today: Razorbills and Guillemots were both plentiful, Herring Gulls and Great Black-backed Gulls were frequently observed near the vessel, a Red-throated Diver was seen near Galley Head & 2 Common Gulls flew east in the late evening. Of particular note was a 2nd-winter Iceland Gull which circled the R.V. Celtic Explorer for a time. These 'white-winged' gulls are a scarce winter visitor from the Arctic.

Iceland Gull of West Cork (c) Conor Ryan

The zooplankton team were unable to survey last night partly due to weather conditions but also due to moving to inshore waters for today's survey efforts. However, the team plan to complete 2 stations tonight in hopes of obtaining barrel jellyfish samples.

Sunset over Knockadoon Head (c) Lilian Lieber

Today's blog contributor: Teresa Martin (Marine Mammal Observer)

Friday, 2 March 2012

COTF3 Day 8: Having a Swell Time...

Today we covered our last few transects over the Porcupine Seabight but our observations were hampered by heavy swell. The cetacean team had an early morning sighting of a Minke Whale followed by 2 sightings of Common Dolphins later in the afternoon. The PAM team recorded few vocalisations due to the weather conditions but did manage to obtain some dolphin whistles and click trains. The sebird team had numerous sightings of Kittiwakes and a few Gannets closest to the shelf's edge as well as a 'Blue' Fulmar and three Great Skuas. The zooplankton team sampled at 4 stations last night with the deepest being 1,700m. The most interesting catch was an ostracod possibly with eggs, a non-swimming pelagic nudibranch, and a decapod zoea.

Listening to Common Dolphins on PAM (c) Teresa Martin

Around 15:00 the cetacean and bird outdoor surveys were suspended and resumed in the bridge due to the poor weather conditions, however, the PAM monitoring continued. This reduced survey set-up allowed us to do data entry and make a start on our final report for the Marine Institute due on Monday.

Increasing sea state and swell! (c) Teresa Martin

Our current position is 83 nautical miles off Fastnet, Ireland and we are now heading into coastal waters. We plan to target all the major headlands between Cape Clear and Ram Head on our coastal transects tomorrow.

Today's blog contributor: Teresa Martin (Marine Mammal Observer)

Thursday, 1 March 2012

COTF3 Day 7: Fin Whale Delight

The cetacean team hard at work in the crow's nest (c) Catherine O'Sullivan

It was a slow morning for the cetacean team with very limited sightings, however this drastically changed with a few Common Dolphin sightings, some numbering to 20+ individuals after lunch. A few of these sightings were also acoustically detected by the PAM Team with visible clicks and whistles. Around 15:30, Fin Whale blows were spotted about 2km away from the vessel. These animals were tracked and came within 100m of the bow which displayed 4 individuals, 2 being juveniles. We then broke track and launched the RIB for Photo-ID (Photo Identification) opportunities of the 2nd largest whale in the ocean.

Fin Whale blows (c) Clo Collins

Distinct chevron markings seen on the Fin Whales (c) Clo Collins

Fin Whale photo ID pic of the dorsal fin (c) Clo Collins

The seabird team were busy in the late morning /early afternoon when we were positioned over the shelf edge. There were big numbers of Gannets as well as numerous Fulmars & Kittiwakes, 15 Great Skuas, 2 Puffins & 3 'Blue' Fulmars. Of particular interest were the two new species which were added to the expedition list today, a Sooty Shearwater (Southern Hemisphere breeder but a regular passage migrant to Ireland in later summer/autumn, so a March record is noteworthy) and a 3rd-winter Yellow-legged Gull (a scarce passage migrant & winter visitor from continental Europe).

Sooty Shearwater (left) with a Gannet (right) (c) Lilian Lieber

3rd winter Yellow-legged Gull (c) Lilian Lieber

The zooplankton team covered 3 stations last night to depths of 1,878m. Their findings were very similar to that of previous nights but a new species for the trip, a planktonic nudibranch (clione sp.), also known as a sea slug, was found.

Crew member observing the zooplankton team in action (c) Fergal Glynn

Our current position is 104 nautical miles SW of Fastnet, Ireland and 210 nautical miles due West of Land's End, England. We plan to continue our transects over the shelf edge tomorrow and then start the trek into coastal waters during the night.

Today's blog contributor: Teresa Martin (Marine Mammal Obeserver)