Grey Seals in Clew Bay

Grey Seal, Westport Bay, County Mayo. 22/10/2016
Adults female Grey Seal

The Grey Seal is also present in Clew Bay. Larger than the Common Seal they breed in October. Grey Seals only occur in small numbers in inner Clew Bay, scattered on rocky islets in ones or twos. During the breeding season I have come across an occasional Grey Seal pup on rocky islets until they have moulted and lost their whitecoat.

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24/10/2016 Grey Seal pup with ‘whitecoat’
Grey Seal pup CBSF 30102016
30/10/2016 Grey Seal pup moulting whitecoat
Grey Seals in Clew Bay 19/03/2016
16/03/2016 Grey Seals bull (right) 2.5–3.3 metres long and weighing up to 300 kilograms and cow (left) 1.6–2.0 metres long and 100–150 kilograms weight (NPWS).

Ireland’s two species of seals, the Common Seal and the Grey Seal are strictly protected  under the Wildlife (Amendment) Act 1976-2005, all cetaceans and seals are protected species listed on the 5th Schedule. In Ireland, the 1992 the EC (Natural Habitats) Regulations requires that both seal species and all cetaceans occurring in Ireland are maintained at favourable conservation status.

Common Seals in Clew Bay

One of the most interesting marine mammals in Clew Bay is the Common Seal. Clew Bay’s archipelago of islands hosts a number of seal haul outs where seals can be seen from passing boats.

Common Seal, Stony Island, Clew Bay, County Mayo. 2017
Common seals come to shore during June to give birth and mate again around this time but usually in the water. Pups are capable of swimming within a few hours of being born but stay with their mother until weaned. Common Seals also come to shore to moult (shed their fur) during July and August often forming large groups on sheltered shores that have ready access to the sea.

Common seals normally feed within 40-50 km around haul out sites. They take a wide variety of prey including sandeels, whitefish, herring and sprat, flatfish, octopus and squid. Diet varies seasonally and from region to region. Because of their smaller size, common seals eat less food than grey seals, perhaps 3-5 kg per day depending on the prey species.

If you would like to come seal watching. Book a trip in “Rebecca,” for a morning or            afternoon, weather permitting, by calling Shay at 0834658374 or for availability email




2018 Serial storms hit Clew Bay

January is the month of serial winter storms. Clew Bay’s inner islands protect the coast between Westport and Newport from the wrath of these North Atlantic storms. Bertra, the local Blue flag beach at the foot of Croagh Patrick has been hard hit again. A boulder beach has covered the tarmac access road to the beach.

Extensive plastic piping debris from a nearby salmon farm is strewn on the beach beside the wheelchair access.

Storm debris Bertra beach, near Murrisk, Clew Bay 24/01/2018

Further down the beach, exposed plastic rubbish is much more visible, the sandunes have been chewed away and the beach breached by the winter storm surges when gales and high tides coincide.

Tide tables have been in great demand serving as the early warning system of the coastal dweller. So far our luck is in with little coastal flooding compared to previous winters. The sea though has eaten away metres of the coast and damaged small access roads and walls protecting the fragile coast.

Storm surges have breached sandune and beach at Bertra

World Ocean Day, 8th June 2017

Wild Atlantic Charter boat “Rebecca” and marine biologist Skipper Shay Fennelly at Westport Airshow Photo courtesy Conor McKeown

Ireland is a small island surrounded by water. Not many Irish people appreciate that simple fact. It has a huge impact on our lives but its a blindspot for many. To live healthily we need clean land and seas. Currently we pollute the sea and the land. Plastic is everywhere. Just a thought – think how you can reduce your use of plastic. If you do you will help protect our food supply and reduce the amount of plastic in our environment.

Read a report in the link below about how fragments of plastics less than 5mm have entered our food and will cause harm to human health and the environment.

Clew bay, sunshine, wind, and mackerel

Elise and Clémence fishing in Clew Bay, County Mayo onboard
Elise and Clémence fishing onboard “Rebecca” in Clew Bay 06/06/2017 Photo Shay Fennelly/Wild Atlantic Charters

Two french ladies Elise and Clémence joined me onboard “Rebecca” for a sea trip among the islands in Clew Bay over the June Bank holiday. We explored some of the islands and fished for some mackerel in the lee of Inishgort lighhouse. Clémence caught her first fish and got some practise driving the boat. We saw several species of sea gulls and terns with the nesting season on many of the islands in full flow. We watched Common seals and some Grey seals in Westport Bay and spotted one recently born Common seal so far this breeding season. These seals come to shore during June to give birth and mate again around this time but usually in the water. Pups are capable of swimming within a few hours of being born but stay with their mother until weaned. On the way home we saw an otter fishing near Claggan.

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Fresh Mackerel from Clew Bay for  dinner! Photo Shay Fennelly/Wild Atlantic Charters

Plastic everywhere – the Wild Atlantic Way

Clew Bay evening 25052017
The sun came but didn’t stay very long – Clew Bay looking to Corraun peninsula and Mulranny 23/05/2017 Photo © Shay Fennelly/Aquaphoto

Almost anywhere you go in Ireland on its Wild Atlantic Way you will see plastic. Stroll almost any beach or cove enter any field. It is everywhere. Why do we accept this complete blot on the environment. Its not that we are blind. Plastic does not degrade it just gets smaller and smaller. The fish and whales eat it, thinking its food. Its a big problem now and its going to be an even bigger problem in the not too distant future as its environmental effect results in die off of marine life. We really are destroying this planet now. The Marine Strategy Framework Directive aims to protect the marine environment more effectively across Europe. In March 2012, the Marine Institute appointed RPS consultants as expert advisor and project partner in a €3m contract to ensure Ireland meets its obligations regarding implemention. The plastic in the ocean will be still here when we are long gone. Much of the plastic packaging for our food could be reduced. A plastic bottle levy could be introduced like the successful plastic bag levy.


Early May in Clew Bay, mackerel in

The first two weeks in May are often some of the best weather of the year. 2017 has delivered. On the evening of 10/05/2017 I caught my first Mackerel too, four lovely adult fish 30cm and bigger. Easterly winds in the first week kept the temperatures cool but the warmth is back in the sun. The seabirds are busy, building nests and mating. I saw Roseate Terns look like nesting at Dorinish Beg and Stony Island. I was surprised to see a group of  five Great Northern Divers in full summer plumage still lingering. Lots of jellyfish have arrived inside the islands. Basking shark are reported from Keem in Achill Island. The Common Seals are begining

Jellyfish arrive in Clew Bay Photo Shay Fennelly/Aquaphoto
Moon jellyfish, Aurelia aurita arrive in Clew Bay  10/05/2017 Photo Shay Fennelly/Aquaphoto

to haulout in larger numbers and will soon be breeding. Common and Black Guillemotes are in full summer plumage.

Rebecca out in Clew Bay, County Mayo Photo Shay Fennelly/Aquaphoto
First mackerel of 2017 caught 10/05/2017 in Rebecca out in Clew Bay, County Mayo Photo Shay Fennelly/Aquaphoto
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Skipper Reg Roynane in Lady Helen with a party at Inishgort Island, Clew Bay, County Mayo 10/05/2017 Photo Shay Fennelly/Aquaphoto

Underwater noise and the protection of whales and dolphins

I am interested in acoustics and how man made underwater noise may impact on marine mammals. The link is to an article I wrote about it in 2014.

Marine mammals depend on sound to communicate, find fish to eat and find their way in the ocean.

Is it cruel to bombard them with high intensity noise which can physically cause internal harm and mask there communications in the sea?

That may be, but a government agency, the Petroleum Affairs Division will give a license for exploration companies to do it in Ireland’s European Economic Zone (Ireland Ocean)

But are these animals protected by the Protection of Animals legislation in Ireland?

The Protection of Animals Acts, 1911 and 1965 are the principal statutes which prohibit the maltreatment of animals.

Initially, the scope of this Act extended only to domestic or captive animals (Section 15 of the 1911 Act), a domestic animal being any tame animal, or any animal which had been sufficiently tamed to be put to use by humans. Captive animals are those whose freedom is curtailed by use of cages, pens, ropes, pinions, or other device. Animals in the wild remained vulnerable to wanton acts of cruelty under the 1911 Act.

The 1965 Act, however, extended the definition to include all wild animals, Section 13(a). By virtue of these provisions, it is now unlawful to commit acts of cruelty on any animal.

It appears that all wild animals are protected from cruelty including whales and dolphins in Ireland.

A government department tasked with licensing oil and gas exploration has a serious conflict of interest. It cannot protect the marine environment when it licenses activities which can physically harm marine life.

A beaked whale stranded in Mulranny, County Mayo, Ireland. 07/03/2015 ©Photo Shay Fennelly

How is this be legal? If these animals are strictly protected under EU law? And in Ireland’s “whale and dolphin sanctuary”?

Can you pay the cost to challenge on grounds of cruelty in a court of law?

Common Dolphins show an avoidance reaction to seismic surveys (Goold 1996) © Photo Shay Fennelly
A young Minke whale 6.40 metres in length was stranded on Omey Island, County Galway 25/11/2015.
Prior to its stranding a Supertawler FV Margiris was fishing off the coast. There is no funded post mortem scheme in Ireland to determine the cause of death of whales and dolphins. In 2017 strandings are at an all time high. No Irish fishery observers are on such pelagic trawlers. ©Photo Shay Fennelly

Harbour Porpoise in Clew Bay 2017

Harbour porpoise and calf in Clew Bay, County Mayo 14/08/2010 16:43
Harbour Porpoise with a calf 14/08/2010 observed while sailing south east of Roeillaun Photo Shay Fennelly 2010

Harbour porpoise is the smallest species of whale in Irish waters. They are 1.5 – 1.9 metres in length. They frequent Clew Bay but are averse to boat engine noise and are more likely detected by sailors in sea state 2 or less. Porpoises have been seen in Clew bay regularly from Curraun to Inishgort.

Due to their slow, forward rolling movement, they rarely produce splashes and can be quite difficult to see in choppy seas or large swells. In calm conditions they can be detected by the sound of their short, sharp blows, which are generally not visible. Diving gannets and feeding seabirds often associate with foraging porpoises and may point to their whereabouts.

Porpoises typically surface briefly 3-4 times in a row before diving for up to eight minutes, although when not hunting may surface less frequently. Porpoises eat herring, mackerel, sprat, pollack, hake, sardines, and sand eels. Foraging areas are often associated with strong tidal currents, especially off headlands or between islands.

Of the 24 species of whales and dolphins in Irish waters 16 species have been recorded in Clew Bay including astonishingly Beluga whales in 1948 (O’Riordan 1972).

Between May and September 2005 and 2007 visual and acoustic survey work revealed bottle nose dolphin and harbour porpoise frequenting Clew Bay. 11 Bottle nose dolphins were photo-identified. Static acoustic monitoring using TPODS carried out at Clare island salmon farm at Portlea, east of Clare Island revealed the presence bottlenose dolphins and harbour porpoise (O’Brien J 2009).

As Ireland’s smallest whale Harbour Porpoises are vulnerable to being caught in tangle nets used for crayfishing and fish bait in coastal areas. Clew Bay has a small population of harbour porpoises but there status and distribution is unknown due to lack of resources to survey them.

If anyone is interested in helping record Harbour porpoises in Clew Bay please text sighting records to me at mob:0834658374

Come and explore Clew Bay’s islands and discover wildlife in “Rebecca” with marine biologist Skipper Shay Fennelly. You can book by calling mobile:0834658374 Contact Shay Fennelly

April sunshine in Clew Bay

A Manx Shearwater taking off from last September in Clew Bay Photo Shay Fennelly

Two days of sunshine in early April saw “Rebecca” make a passage to Murrisk pier from Rosmoney via Crovinish and Inishraher. Blue skies and sunshine were welcome after weeks of grey cloud and rain. Air temperature was about 10 degrees, not yet shorts weather. Common seals were basking on the rocks enroute near Carrickawart. We saw three Sandwich Terns aerial diving for fish in Westport Bay. In Murrisk we met Charlie O’Malley cleaning lobster pots and preparing for the fishing season. A visit to Inishgort revealed some damage to the west facing wall of Inishgort Lighthouse from the winter storms. The fishing rods got some use but no bites on feathers.

Connie Cullen fishing in Rebecca in Clew Bay, County Mayo 08042017
Westport based traditional musician Connie Cullen (mobile: 0862933053) tries a hook and line instead of his instrument of choice – banjo, guitars, sax and whistle Photo Shay Fennelly

On our second passage we visited Inishlongfield passing Blackshell Mussel Farm and on to Newport Bay. Gulls were mating on some islands. At Roeillaun the Great Black back gulls have formed pairs and rested out on the sea while we made a brief shore visit. Listening on the hydrophone at Roeillaun engine noise from the “Inishoo” a passing angling boat, snapping shrimp and water sounds could be heard.

Trying the hydrophone near Roeillaun in Clew Bay, County Mayo 07042017
I try the hydrophone near Inishcooa to listen to Clew Bay’s underwater soundscape and hear engine noise, snapping shrimp and water sounds. Photo Connie Cullen (08/04/2017)

A Brent goose flock of at least 100 birds landed on  Inishcooa hilltop to graze and could be heard distinctly calling described as a gutteral ‘rhut, rhut.’ Oystercatchers were courting on Roeillaun and a few Gannets flew by hinting at fish to be caught nearby. But no luck. (08/04/2017)

Homeward bound in Rebecca after a day out in Clew Bay 07042017
Heading home from Inishgort channel Photo Shay Fennelly 08/04/2017


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