More whale sightings due to boating increase

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INCREASED traffic at Carrick Marina may be contributing to the presence of Killer whales along Antrim coastal waters.

This is one of the findings of the ground-breaking report ‘Northern Ireland State of the Seas’, which has just been published.

Produced primarily by the Northern Ireland Environment Agency (NIEA) and the Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute (AFBI), the document is the first of its kind to cover the province’s marine environment.

In the section on Marine Biodiversity, attention is drawn to an Irish Whale and Dolphin Group (IWDG) review of all cetacean sighting and stranding records for Northern Ireland prior to 2007. This, according to the report, showed that the harbour porpoise represented almost 80 per cent of all records.

It continued: “Minke whales Balaenoptera acutorostrata were the second most frequent, representing five per cent of records. Bottlenose dolphins Tursiops truncatus share a similar inshore distribution to harbour porpoises and their sightings comprised four per cent of sighting records but have recently been much more frequently recorded. Killer whales Orcinus orca were occasionally recorded (two per cent) with aggregations of records from the Copeland Islands.

The additional sightings may be a reflection of the increased boat traffic at Bangor and Carrickfergus marinas. This species may be observed inshore or offshore and typically occurs singly or in small pods.”

The report covers 14 different aspects of marine environmental quality ranging from fish and foodwebs to marine litter and underwater noise.

It documents the clean up of areas like Belfast Lough. This is due to the reductions of some of the traditional pollutants like heavy metals and nutrients through the improved treatment of sewage, industrial and agricultural effluents.

The report points to threats to native biodiversity from ocean transport and boating which can introduce alien species. In terms of commercial fisheries, it reveals that Irish Sea herring stock has improved to a point where it is considered stable, while haddock spawning is on the increase.

There is evidence that Dublin Bay prawns and plaice are being harvested sustainably, while some traditionally fished species like cod and whiting are at historically low levels.

The report concludes that there is a need to further improve understanding of the marine environment by more joined-up working between Departments.

The report can be accessed at http://www.doeni.gov.uk/niea/water-home/state_of_the_seas_ni_report.htm