A SERIES of unusual whale sightings caught the attention of scientists at marine mammal research facility, Sea Watch Foundation, this past week.
Members of the public are encouraged by the organisation to report any sightings of dolphins, porpoises and whales across the UK. This usually leads to patterns of species being found in areas where they are expected, but there are occasionally exceptions to the rule, thanks to the nature of water-bound species. The recent sightings around Wales serve as an example of that.
The long-finned pilot whale is the species in question, well known due to the exploitation of the mammals during organised drives in the Faroe Islands. These ‘subsidence’ hunts take place annually, and many activists would like to see an end to them. Pilot whales observed in the Faroes may travel along the shelf edge to waters west of the British Isles and beyond, radio-tracking studies have shown.
Despite the fact that there are past records of pilot whales spotted around Wales, it remains an rather unusual occurrence, especially with sightings taking place at four different locations on four separate occasions.
The first sighting was made in the Central Irish Sea, 47 miles out from Aberdyfi in Gwynedd. On August 17, five pilot whales were spotted at this location by Charlie Bartlett, who has been venturing out to sea for 45 years. On Sunday, August 21, the second sighting was made off Eynon Point, Swansea, where a lone pilot whale was reported. On that very same day, a third sighting was reported. Two days later, near between Southerndown and Ogmore-by-Sea in Glamorgan, the final sighting was made. This time, eight animals were spotted by Sea Watch volunteer Keith Burgess. Keith couldn’t be certain of what he was watching at the time of the sighting (11am, Tuesday, August 23). The Sea Watch Foundation team discussed the matter, becoming confident that the animals were indeed long-finned pilot whales.
With so many similar reports from the same time – two of which have been verified – it is certainly plausible that a pod of these whales is moving around the Welsh coast at the moment.
Sightings Officer for Sea Watch Foundation, Kathy James, said: “We’d love people to get out there to look for these enigmatic whales and report any sightings to us. We encourage these ‘casual sightings’ through our website and also welcome people to take part in dedicated watches for whales, dolphins and porpoises around our coast.”
Dr Peter Evans, Director of Sea Watch Foundation, said: “Long-finned pilot whales typically live in large groups in deep waters beyond the edge of the continental shelf. Here they feed largely upon oceanic squid. However, occasionally they come into shelf waters around the British Isles from the Atlantic, either in pursuit of squid or shoaling fish. It is likely that an abundance of a particular prey species brought them into Welsh coastal waters on this occasion.”
How to monitor whales around Wales:
- Report your sightings at www.seawatchfoundation.org.uk/sightingsform.
- Stage a dedicated watch at www.seawatchfoundation.org.uk/recording-and-submitting-sightings.
- Get in touch! Email kathy.james@seawatchfoundation. org.uk.
Long-finned pilot whale facts:
- Length: Adult females are 4-5.5m. Males grow to 5.5- 6m in length.
- Head: Bulbous head, short, almost imperceptible, beak.
- Fins and coloration: A dark back, a low-swept back fin and long flippers.
- Lifespan: Around 50 years
- Diet: Pilot whales seem to feed exclusively on Todarodes (a genera of cephalopods) whereever possible, but if it is unavailable, the diet is supplemented with a range of other prey items including fish and shrimps. In winter, prey species diversity increases whereas fish become more important in summer, especially in the diet of males, although squid still continue to make up the bulk of the food.
Another man charged in Ifan Owens assault case
ANOTHER man has been charged and remanded into custody in relation to the serious assault of Ifan Owens, aged 19, in Aberystwyth on January 14.
Michael Arwyn Jones, 24, has been charged with S18 Grievous Bodily Harm with Intent and Possession of Cannabis.
Last week, Billy Valentine, 19, of Terrace Road, Aberystwyth, and David Lloyd, 25, of no fixed abode, entered no pleas when they appeared at Haverfordwest Magistrates’ Court.
The pair were sent to trial at Swansea Crown Court on May 11 at 10am.
Due to the serious nature of the offence, Lloyd’s bail was revoked.
The court found there was a real risk he would abscond or re-offend.
As well as being charged with grievous bodily harm, he was also charged with having a blade exceeding 3 inches in a public place without good reason or lawful authority.
Valentine was also charged with being in possession of herbal cannabis as the time of his arrest. This was by Magistrates, who gave him a 12 month conditional discharge, and ordered him to pay £20 to fund the victims of crime, and £85 to the Crown Prosecution Service.
Consultation to launch today on future of health services in Ceredigion
HYWEL DDA UNIVERSITY HEALTH BOARD are formally announcing the launch of their consultation at County Hall in Haverfordwest this morning (Apr 19).
The proposals, the Board say, will shape the future provision of health and care services to the general population.
These provisions will be ‘safe, viable and offer an improvement to what is currently provided’.
The Herald will be attending the event, which starts at 9:30am.
You can watch a live stream here.
The 12-week consultation, which is clinically-led, will involve a number of events for communities, both general and targeted, as well as an awareness raising campaign.
It is expected that the announcements will have big changes for Withbyush, Glangwili, Prince Philip and Bronglais hospitals.
Issue of lifeboats raised to Prime Minister
BEN LAKE MP made his Prime Minister’s Questions debut, raising the important issue of the future of Cardigan Bay’s lifeboat provision.
On Thursday (Apr 18) Mr Lake commended the valiant efforts of RNLI staff and volunteers at New Quay lifeboat station who have been safeguarding those who venture out into the bay, be it for work or pleasure, since 1864.
He also expressed concern at the possibility that there will no longer be an all-weather lifeboat in Ceredigion from 2020.
Mr Lake asked the Prime Minister whether she would agree ‘that the invaluable work of the RNLI serves as a fourth emergency service, and that as such it is essential the coastline of Ceredigion, like every other populated coastline, has access to this service whatever the weather?’
The Prime Minister responded: “Search and rescue at sea is provided by several organisations, including the coastguard and the RNLI. The RNLI has a proud tradition, and we should be grateful for its record on search and rescue at sea. It is obviously independent and decides where best to put its resources, but we are supporting the work of independent lifeboat charities through our Rescue Boat Grant Fund, which has allocated more than £3.5 million since 2014 to increase capacity and resilience by providing new boats and equipment.”
Ben Lake said: “I was glad of the opportunity to raise an issue that is of great concern to communities across Ceredigion with the Prime Minister. I look forward to working with the RNLI and campaign representatives in search of a long-term solution, and in particular seek to ascertain whether the Rescue Boat Grant Fund could be of benefit to ensuring the retention of an all-weather lifeboat at New Quay.”
The RNLI has decided to downgrade New Quay Lifeboat Station to an Inshore Lifeboat when the service life of its Mersey-class All-Weather Lifeboat expires in 2020.
The proposed new lifeboat will not be able to launch in conditions exceeding Force 7 in the daytime or Force 6 at night.
After 2020, there will be no All-Weather Lifeboats in the whole of Ceredigion, leaving a gap of 70 miles between the All-Weather stations of Barmouth and Fishguard.
The latest generation of All-Weather Lifeboats can travel at 25 knots in 30 minutes in calm conditions. In a challenging sea, the nearest boats at Barmouth and Fishguard would take more than an hour and a half to respond to an emergency off New Quay or Aberaeron.
The mission statement of the RNLI reads: “Our crews aim to launch their lifeboats with 10 minutes of being notified and can operate up to 100 nautical miles out at sea. We aim to reach at least 90% of all casualties within 10 nautical miles of the coast within 30 minutes of a lifeboat launch – any weather.”
The Ceredigion Lifeboat Campaign are questioning how local rescues can take place in a challenging sea to meet this aim of the RNLI. Over 10,000 have currently signed a petition campaigning against the proposed changes.
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