A troubling spike in the number of strandings of whales and dolphins is of growing concern to the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group, who announced this week that the past year has seen a big increase compared to previous years.
An unprecedented total of 160 strandings were logged during 2011, according to the groups co-ordinator Dr Simon Berrow. This compares to 92 strandings in 2010, Berrow added.
The overall total was the third highest since the group set up its recording scheme in 1991, the year when Ireland’s whale and dolphin sanctuary was announced by former Irish prime minister Charles Haughey.
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A very high peak of common dolphin strandings occurred during February 2011 and a high number of porpoise strandings also occurred during the winter.
Meanwhile the group has received samples from a 43 foot sperm whale that washed up on Connemara’s Omey island last week. The dramatic stranding has become an unlikely tourist attraction with an estimated 8,000 visitors since last week.
'I don’t think we’ll ever see anything like this and families are still coming, having travelled for miles,' Claddaghduff resident Feicin Mulkerrin told the Irish Times.
Mulkerrin, who works for the Office of Public Works, was checking cattle on Omey when he came across the carcase. Heavy storms in Ireland over the past fortnight are believed to have washed the whale in.
According to the Irish Times Galway County Council officials will make a final decision on the disposal of the whale early this week, but their options are limited.
Incineration could prove difficult for environmental reasons, and the beach is confined and rock strewn.
'It’s very likely that the beach would be too small and without sufficient depth, Mulkerrin said. 'At least weather is on our side, as the whale hasn’t begun to smell yet.'
The last recorded sperm whale found on the Irish coastline occurred near Dungarvan, County Waterford in August 2011. The stranded mammal survived for just a day. Previous to that a live stranding occurred in Donegal in 2007.