Innovative training exercise to boost efforts to assist beached mammals

 

DIVERS, SCIENTISTS and community volunteers participated in a training exercise in Connemara at the weekend which aims to assist whales and dolphins that beach on the Atlantic seaboard.

The training exercise on Gurteen beach near Roundstone, Co Galway, involved about two dozen participants and took place on the eve of the west’s largest science and technology festival in Galway.

An inflated pilot whale weighing several tonnes was rescued and refloated, using a new pontoon. The pontoon was later on display at yesterday’s Galway Science and Technology festival, which was opened in NUI Galway by EU research and innovation commissioner Máire Geoghegan-Quinn.

Dr Simon Berrow, of the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group, who led the exercise, said he hoped other coastal communities would follow the Roundstone example, given the number of live strandings on the Atlantic seaboard.

Two weeks ago, 33 pilot whales died after stranding on Rutland island, near Arranmore, Co Donegal. Efforts are still being made to identify the cause of their beaching.

The new pontoon is the third on the 7,800km-long Irish coastline. It was bought with funds raised by the local community and a BBC2 television team, while they worked on a show for the new Monty Halls Great Escapetelevision series in Connemara.

Halls, nicknamed “action man Attenborough”, spent six months in Roundstone filming this year. He was struck by the fact that there are up to 150 strandings of whales and dolphins on the Irish coastline annually, some 20 of which are live. One of the fundraising efforts involved a solo currach row by Halls from the Aran islands to Connemara.

The pontoon concept for refloating beached whales and dolphins was developed in New Zealand. The new structure will be used by trained members of Galway Dive Club, working with IWDG volunteers, and will be stored in the Galway Atlantaquaria in Salthill.

IWDG volunteers outlined the organisation’s work to thousands of young people at yesterday’s festival in NUIG.

Among the festival’s highlights were specimens gathered by Charles Darwin during the Beaglevoyage which are on display in the college’s zoology and marine biology museum.

Up to 20,000 primary and post-primary students were estimated to have attended the free one-day event, which was supported by medical device manufacturer Medtronic and the Industrial Development Authority.

Ms Geoghegan-Quinn said at the opening that Europe would need one million researchers by 2020 and she wanted young Europeans to discover the “magic of science”.