July 19, 2022

4. Whale Tales and Dashing Dolphins

4. Whale Tales and Dashing Dolphins
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Chatting about whales, dolphins and porpoises - that's cetaceans to you and me - with Sibéal Regan of the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group.  If you want to know about sightings and strandings, dolphin anatomy, cetacean friendships, sailing on the Celtic Mist and why we want Fair Seas, jump in! 

Episode Photo - Common Dolphin, Pádraig Whooley

Irish Whale and Dolphin Group (iwdg.ie)

Sail With Us | Irish Whale and Dolphin Group (iwdg.ie)

Short video of bait-ball activity: sardines being eaten by big fish from below and seabirds from above. Shearwater Attack! | Blue Planet | BBC Studios - YouTube

Our Centre | Irish Whale and Dolphin Group (iwdg.ie)

FairSeas | Building a Movement of Ocean Stewardship


See omnystudio.com/listener for privacy information.


[Sound of sea shore, water lapping and sea gulls]

HOST: Hello, and welcome back to the Animal Friendly podcast. This episode comes to you from the coast, so join me, by the sea, as we learn all about our wonderful marine mammals.

So here we are with Sibeal Regan and with the Irish Whale and Dolphin group. So, would you like to tell us a bit about what is the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group.

SIBEAL: Ya, so the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group is the leading environmental NGO - so non-governmental organisation - in Ireland and we advocate for the better understanding of cetaceans. So, cetaceans are whales and dolphins and porpoises...I could say that again?

HOST: Okay, you could see me making a face...I have to improve my vocabulary now...so, cetaceans are whales and dolphins?

SIBEAL: Yes, so cetaceans is the collective name for whales, dolphins and porpoises.

HOST (whispering): And what's the difference between a dolphin and a porpoise? Are they two different things?

SIBEAL: They are a little bit different, yeah. So, typically you can break them into whales are bigger, dolphins are a little bit smaller, and porpoises are smaller again but they do all have unique different features that you can break it up into, but yeah, they're all separate things.

HOST: And so that's why sharks aren't involved...sharks are, like, fish?

SIBEAL: Yes, exactly. So, whales, dolphins and porpoises are all marine mammals so they're similar to you and me. Even evolutionary-wise, whales and dolphins are really interesting because we actually share a lot of the same bones, they're just configured a little bit differently, and you can see it really clearly. So, the same reason why whales and dolphins need to breath air through their blowhole - their nostrils - whether sharks and fish don't. So, because they're mammals, they have to breathe air. So that's why they surface.

HOST: They have to come up...I kind of knew this in the back of my mind but it's nice to talk to an expert and have it confirmed and be like, that is right, okay. Ahm, so they have to come up every so often...to breathe...?

SIBEAL: Exactly. So, depending on the species, you know, we've got deep-diving species that can hold their breath for up to an hour, or a little bit more, and then the smaller dolphins or the porpoises can only hold their breath for ten, maybe fifteen minutes, so there's a huge diversity in range there, but they all have to breathe air.

HOST: That's why they're coming up so often and, jumping around.

SIBEAL: Exactly, yeah, and that allows marine mammal observers like myself and marine mammal ecologists to observe them, coz when they come up to breathe it gives us a good opportunity to actually observe them and record them, whether if they didn't do that it would be much harder to monitor them.

HOST: You could be out for a whole day going, we saw nothing.


SIBEAL: Not seeing anything, yeah, it happens, so, the Irish Whale and Dolphin group, you know, we're a charity, and basically our mission is for the better understanding and conservation of these whales, dolphins and porpoises...or cetaceans.

HOST: That are all around our waters here in Ireland. So, let's start with one group that I did not know about, the Shannon...there's a big group of dolphins in the Shannon Estuary, just living there?

SIBEAL: Yeah, a hundred percent. So, they're bottle-nosed dolphins, and there's actually three different populations of bottle-nosed dolphins that we know of, in Irish waters, that are genetically distinct from one another. So, one of those is the Shannon population here, and they're found in the Shannon Estuary from Kilkee all the way down to Brandon and Tralee bay. So those are genetically different to a group on the west coast - so around Galway and Mayo - and then we have another group offshore as well. So, when we say the Shannon-

HOST: How far offshore? Yeah, what's offshore?

SIBEAL: Offshore can be anywhere past 12 nautical miles out to 200. So, they just don't, they're not around our coastal areas, whether the Shannon population and the west coast Connaught population would be very coastal, you'd see them inshore quite a lot.

HOST: So that brings us on to sightings. There are two kind of things that...there's a lot of things that you do within your group - but two things that we'll cover now are sightings and strandings. So the first thing is sightings...and that is when you see...

SIBEAL: When you see things alive, yeah! So, the Irish Whale and Dolphin group, we run two main long-standing schemes, the sighting and stranding schemes. And these are citizen science projects, so actually anybody can get involved, which is really cool, because Ireland is an island nation, you know, nobody is that far away from the coast and everyone has an opportunity to see these species. So, if you do see something, especially if you take a photograph, you can report it to us on our website or a free mobile app. Basically then we have a sightings officer, Padraig Whooley, who validates everything individually, so it's not a computerised system. We go through every record we get and validate it to see what species it is.

HOST: And what kind of details are you looking for, with the sightings?

SIBEAL: So, with the sightings, kind of key things...there's two different types...so, we run an effort-watch scheme which is maybe trained members that go out, they sit on a headland for a certain amount of time - we normally say sixty to ninety minutes - and they record what they see, even if that's nothing, and that gives us a good baseline. And then we have our opportunistic sightings, is what we say, so if you were out on a walk, or you were kayaking or something and you happened to see a cetacean, then you can equally record that. So there's two different types; there's the opportunistic and then there's the effort watches as well.

HOST: So is it worth, like, say, if you were kayaking, and you just saw what you thought was a dolphin, going past, and you didn't get a photo, you didn't get anything, is it still worth saying, I think I saw a dolphin...or, I did see something...?

SIBEAL: A hundred percent it is, yes. So, when you're reporting a sighting we ask lots of different questions like...well, first of all the basic information is where were you? What day it was? You know, what was the weather? So was it raining? Was it really windy? What kind of time of the day it was, all of that kind of basic information. And then we'll ask you the size of the animal that you think you saw, the shape of its head, if you saw the head, the shape of...did you see a fin? Did you see a tail coming out of the water? Did you see a jump out of the water? You know, its behaviour. Because, when we're validating things it's not just, you saw a dolphin. All of the dolphins do and look differently. You know, they behave a lot differently. So, there's behavioural questions there, and it's to check the box. So, we're asking you the questions and you just fill in which one applies best, you know?

HOST: That's really interesting coz you mightn't know...

SIBEAL: Yeah, and even size, you know, was it one metre, was it two metres, was it fifteen metres? Do you know what I mean, like, that's...we can kind of rule out certain species by the answers you're giving. So, it's really useful, even if you don't know what you're seeing, we might be able to tell you what you saw. Which is the power of it as well, because then, people can learn. As a citizen science scheme, everyone can get involved. You don't need to be an expert. We would rather you send in something...I got a video and, you know, it was a rock breaking...and it looked like a whale, and, you know, that happens a lot as well, so, they're really...we would rather you send in the sightings even if you're not sure, and be wrong, and we can validate it, you know, than not sending anything in and then we're missing species and we're missing coverage, so, definitely do get in touch.

HOST: Because you're trying to compile a database.

SIBEAL: Exactly. So, the sighting scheme is running now for nearly thirty years so it's really long-term, which is really powerful scientifically and because we validate everything that goes into the database, we're a hundred percent confident that what we said it was, is. Because we're not just accepting blanket records, it's all validated. And if we're not able to validate something to a species level, we'll downgrade it and we'll say, it was a patterned dolphin species or it was a dolphin or it was a whale so even if we can't get to that species level, using the questions on the sightings form we can break it up and get the best...

HOST: Have a bit of information there.


HOST: And that...often that is how people start, they see something and then they get in touch with you and, like you see this in wildlife groups or different rescue groups all the time. As soon as somebody has rescued a baby gull or something, they want to join and learn so that's great for you.

SIBEAL: Exactly. Aw, it's brilliant, you know, and...so I'm the education and outreach officer so I do a lot of trainings, like species identification workshops, teaching people how to do headland watches, how to survey on a boat, all of that kind of thing. Everyone has to start somewhere.

HOST: Where did you start? How did you start? Do you remember?

SIBEAL: (laughing) It was a long time ago now. Yes, I started volunteering with the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group when I was about fourteen or fifteen, and so, you know, I started from the bottom. I'm originally from a sheep-farming background...

HOST: Just for the record, I want everybody to know, Sibeal still looks like she's fourteen or fifteen...just want you to know that.  So, what was that, like last year?

SIBEAL: (laughing): No, not quite, not quite...

HOST: (laughing) She's at least nineteen now, yeah.


SIBEAL (laughing): No, I started...you know, my background is actually sheep-farming so I didn't grow up with a maritime background at all. But I was always obsessed with the marine environment, and I went whale-watching in Cork, funny enough. I didn't know at the time that you could see things pretty much everywhere, so we went to Cork because I knew that there was something in Cork...and it was a horrible day, and I got a very brief glimpse of a minke whale. And then that was me hooked. So, I was googling everything, whales and dolphins in Ireland, and the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group came up. And, from then I joined, as a student membership, and just tried volunteering, getting involved where I could and then I went on a studied Freshwater Marine Biology in Galway as well.

HOST: Right, okay...you are obsessed.

SIBEAL: I am obsessed, yeah. And I've been working as a consultant for about seven years maybe, offshore and training people and stuff for the last three.

HOST: And there are actually lots of different ways that you can get involved. You can do watches, you can do courses, you can just...yeah, let's actually, let's talk about the ship and we'll come back to strandings later on then. So, this is amazing, is that you guys have a vessel, a boat, the Celtic Mist?

SIBEAL: A research vessel, yeah.

HOST: And you do, kind of, what would you call it, long...?

SIBEAL: We do dedicated surveys, week-long voyages.

HOST: Voyages! And people, ordinary people can go on these, that blows my mind.

SIBEAL: Yeah, I mean...

HOST: What is that like?

SIBEAL: It's amazing and, you know, when I started volunteering at a young age I did the member's cruises for the week-long ones as well, and then I was lucky enough to meet Dr Joanna Bryan and she was doing dedicated acoustic surveys on bottle-nosed dolphins and I was lucky enough to join her for a summer on Celtic Mist. Like, it's just amazing, the opportunities if someone has the passion and the time to put into something, what you can actually get out of it in Ireland is amazing. Like, we are one of the best places in the world to see whales and dolphins, and having a research boat, Celtic Mist, just allows us to do so much more. So, you don't need a background in Marine Biology to be a member of the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group...anyone can get involved...and there's lots of different levels. Like, as you said, we've got some members who just like to keep up to date on Facebook and get the news-letters and the e-zines and they're like, that's lovely, and then we've got other people who wanted to get into it for sailing, and they just use the Celtic Mist as a sailing opportunity. And then we have people with general wildlife interest, wildlife photographers - we love to see someone coming with a camera - so there honestly is such a mix from third-level students to secondary-school students. I run a TY [transition year] program as well, so we get secondary school kids out, even as young as...actually we just finished up a two-week floating classroom on Celtic Mist for national school kids and we had kids as young as six come on to learn about whales and dolphins.

HOST: And the kids are on the boat?


SIBEAL: Yup. So, we're docked - we don't bring the kids out sailing, but they come on, they can explore the boat. I've got lots of skulls and whale ear-bones and eyes and fun things, so they can learn a little bit about them...

[Background sound of waves and seagulls fading in]

HOST: You may hear some clicking or clacking noises in the background. We were recording in an open office, so that was someone at another desk, actually doing some work while we were just having a chat. Also, apologies for my high-pitched squeals of excitement but, you know, this stuff is exciting.

[Background sound of waves and seagulls fading out]

HOST: And so when you're out on a week-long survey - this is a really stupid question but that's my job, doing this - are you sleeping on the boat?


HOST: No way!

SIBEAL: Yeah, so there's eight berths on board. So, berths is kind of bunks, or beds, so how many people can sleep on board. So, eight people can sleep on board, which is great. So, we go out for a week and we try and go the whole way around Ireland. So, let's say we started off in May in Dublin, in Poolbeg, we started with floating classrooms - so floating classroom was for two weeks...

HOST: And that's just docked, and you're having the kids coming on.

SIBEAL: Yeah, so we're doing workshops with kids in schools. We sailed from Poolbeg to Malahide, all the way around Northern Ireland, and then in between going visiting the schools, we were also surveying for whales and dolphins while we were sailing. So, it was kind of multi-use, which is great.

HOST: It's really good. And then you've got a mix of people on board, as well? Some would be kind of expert, and others are just total beginners, just out for...?

SIBEAL: For the floating classroom it was more experts, facilitators, science communicators, as well as Ulster wildlife. But the member cruises - that's anybody - it's open to all of the members and we try and ensure that there's two marine biologists onboard for every leg. So, we'd have an experienced marine biologist and maybe a student who is trying to build their experience. And then there's a skipper and a first mate and all of the rest of the spaces are open to members, which is cool.

HOST: Because you have some videos on your website of, you know, excerpts of trips, and it looks like a lot of people on the boat, so I was like, they can't all be sleeping on the boat. They are.

SIBEAL: They are.

HOST: So, I'd say it's quite exciting, it's the real thing, you're out sailing and you're living on the boat...

SIBEAL: Yeah, it's a great experience because you get to experience life on a boat and sailing and then you're also surveying for whales and dolphins so you get this really lovely bond between the crew as well. You know, everyone's just there because they're passionate about wildlife and, you know, you cook together, you eat together, you get into this really lovely routine of living onboard a boat and surveying for whales and dolphins. And it's just a lovely atmosphere because everyone is there to learn and experience things. And even if the weather isn't great for looking for whales and dolphins, chances are it's a really good windy day that you can put all the sails up and sail, so I don't think I've ever had a bad experience onboard Celtic Mist.

HOST: Is there certain types of weather that you're more likely to see whales and dolphins?

SIBEAL: A hundred percent.

HOST: Really, yeah? Okay. What do they like? Do they come up in the sun? Or the rain?

SIBEAL: It doesn't really matter if it's sunny or raining, it's the wind that'll affect us, and it's not that the whales and dolphins won't be there if it's windy, it's that our chances of seeing them is reduced. So, your sightability and your visibility is really important when you're looking for whales and dolphins. And if it's very windy and there's lots of white-caps or spray and stuff, your chances of actually seeing them is reduced, so we tend to not like windy weather too much, for seeing stuff.  Sailing is very good.

HOST: I suppose, if you're trying to see something. Because if the water is still and you're looking for something that's breaking the water.

SIBEAL: Exactly, so when you're looking for whales and dolphins there's a couple of key tips, I suppose, that I could give you. The first one is that if you try and look for birds also. So the seabirds will often spot fish before we would, and where there are fish and birds, likely there's going to be some blubber following it. So especially certain species, like, if you see lots of diving gannets, which are Ireland's largest seabird, followed by circling Manx Shearwaters, all of that kind of stuff, that could indicate that there's a bait ball there. And a bait ball is a big group of fish that's being pushed to the surface, probably by a big predator like a whale or dolphin or even tuna as well. And that's gonna...that's where you get cool, amazing mixed-species feeding aggregations, we call them. So, you just get lots of everything happening, everything's bubbling at the surface. So, seabirds are brilliant. If it is a little bit choppy, waves going the wrong direction are a good cue that it could be a dorsal fin. Any kind of splashes as well, so, dolphins in particular like to breach, where they jump out of the water, and you'll get these splashes. So, if you see those, you know, keep your eye in that location.

HOST: I saw that on Blue Planet, the whole bait ball and the big fish pushing them upwards and the birds coming in the top and, it never occurred to me, that could be happening out in, you know, Irish waters.

SIBEAL: It is, and I mean Irish waters...you know, the waters off Ireland are so productive. I mean, we've got the Atlantic Ocean here. In even, actually, the Irish Sea, the Celtic Sea, there's so much happening. Like, around Irish waters there's 26 species of whales, dolphins and porpoises that we've recorded, and validated. It's amazing. Like, that's huge diversity and that's from the smallest species - like we said, the harbour porpoises - all the way up to really elusive deep-diving species like beaked whales that we find in offshore canyon systems and the Rockall Troughs. There is an absolute array of things to see. It is brilliant. People always have this thing in their head that you have to go out on a boat - you have to go offshore - to see all this amazing stuff, but you don't actually. A lot of things happen in our coastal waters. Like even now, during the summer months and the autumn months we've got the big whales here. So, fin whales, humpback whales...and you can see them from land. You don't have to be on a boat to see a fin whale which is the second largest animal in the world. We've got members in our local groups in Cork and Waterford seeing them from a car park, parked in their car with their binoculars. I mean, it's insane, you know?


HOST: I like the sound of that as well, as a kind of a fairly easy day out, if you don't want to go sailing, you can...you do meeting up.

SIBEAL: Exactly. There's something for everyone, at all different levels. Whether you have general interest or you want to get into it at an expert level, going offshore surveying. Because we're an all-Ireland group, we've started to break the island up a little bit into local groups, and that just kind of connects like-minded people together in their local area, so it makes it easier to share sightings, to share strandings. If someone is going out to a headland, they can put it up into the local group and say, look, I'm going, does anybody want to come? And we've got some really experienced members that have been involved for years training up younger members in the where to go, where not to go, where's the best time in...and it becomes this really social aspect then as well of people just enjoying nature together, which is really nice. 

HOST: We're in Kilrush at the moment, at the dolphin centre. I'm from Galway and I just recently found out that there's a dolphin living in Galway Bay, who now has 2 friends, so tell us about the Galway...Nimmo.

SIBEAL: So, Nimmo is a bottlenose dolphin and he's a bit of an oddball so we've recorded Nimmo the last several years actually in Galway Bay. And it's really funny because for the first couple of years, when he would arrive was nearly timed with the high tide. And he would only come really during the summer, catching salmon out of the Corrib. And so, I was hesitant to call him a solitary dolphin. A solitary dolphin is...bottlenose dolphins normally live in quite intricate family groups and you wouldn't really see them alone. But we do get these oddball solitary dolphins. So, I was hesitant to call him a solitary dolphin for a long time because he was only catching the fish. He didn't seek out any human interaction or anything like that.  But actually, he's spending more and more time now around Galway Bay and he's not really following that tidal pattern anymore, so it's interesting. And now he's joined by 2 friends from the Shannon population as well. And that's amazing, because the Shannon population, as we said, are resident. They're here all year round, they don't really tend to venture outside of their range. And we know them very well through photo identification. So in the Shannon, we have a long-term monitoring scheme. We've been monitoring them now for about 30 years as well. And through photographs we can track individuals and recognise individuals. So it's not even anymore saying, oh, that's a bottlenose dolphin...we can say that's Nala or that's Sandy Salmon and that’s that one's calf and this is her mother. For three generations we can track these dolphins, which is amazing. And so we got photographs. The Galway local group are absolutely fantastic actually. They regularly go out and watch Nimmo. And that's also why we can recognise these patterns of his movements, because we have people watching him all the time. So we can build up this series of events through time and start to track his movements and what he's doing, where he's going. But it's really interesting that he's teamed up with these two Shannon dolphins now because, you know, where did they meet? Dolphins are so weird [laughing]. Like, we know that they were in the Shannon, they were here for the last, you know, how many years and now they're in Galway. And it's like, where, how...? [How did that happen?] And it's so funny because a good few years ago now, Dusty, who would be a solitary dolphin that hangs around Clare actually - doesn't associate with the Shannon dolphins, really - met up with a solitary dolphin from, I think it was the Moray Firth, and then another one from France or somewhere came over. And they were on their jollies for...going around Ireland absolutely terrorising swimmers, it was hilarious. But you had these three solitary dolphins team up together, go around for a couple of weeks and then head away again. And it was just like, so strange, because how did they meet? And especially because solitary dolphins, you know...they are solitary. We rarely see them hanging out with other dolphins. So it's really weird when we see them team up.

HOST: And they have a little bit of a holiday and then they're like, I've had enough, I need my space again, man.

SIBEAL: Pretty much. But it is through photo-identification and the Shannon dolphin co-ordinator, Mags Daly, is an absolute expert in photoidentification of the Shannon dolphins. She just knows them so well, from looking at these photos.

HOST: What kind of features would tell you...?

SIBEAL: So, the dorsal fin of a bottlenose dolphin is similar to our human fingerprint. They're unique to all of them. So, they can be slightly different sizes and shapes but over time they accumulate these scars and these nicks and these notches because bottlenose dolphins are actually quite aggressive towards one another.

HOST: We think they're so cute and friendly [laughing].

SIBEAL: Ya, not really [laughing]. They're a big, boisterous animal and they do...they're quite aggressive towards one another. But because they're so aggressive, they get these nicks and these notches that are unique. So, through these natural markings we're able to recognise individuals. Because once they have them, they don't lose them. They can accumulate more over time, so that's why it's also really important that we keep monitoring them, year in and year out, and getting photographs to update the database. Because, although they can't lose the nicks, they can gain more, so you need to be able to update your catalogue.

HOST: So, when a dolphin has a calf... I actually heard someone downstairs talking about calves, otherwise I would have said a pup or something [laughing]. That's how I learned. Ahm, do you...the calf stays with the mother for a while and then you see them swimming?

SIBEAL: Ya, exactly. So, the calves will stay with the mothers for actually quite a long time. They'll stay with the mum for a few years, and then they'll kind of start to drift apart. But you do get these really close intricate family connections, and some dolphins prefer to hang out with some dolphins and some dolphins don't like to hang out together.  So, because the population here in the Shannon is resident and we've been observing them for so long, we know their movements and stuff quite well now. So, we start to see the same individuals hanging out with one another. But, because the calves will stay with mum for such a long time, you know, you photograph them when they're calves...they won't have markings and then you'll see them swimming with her for a year or two years and then they'll start to move away but, by that time...

HOST: You know them at that point.

SIBEAL: Exactly.

HOST: I imagine, like anything...like somebody looking at a bunch of horses - one person say they're all the same, somebody who's into horses would be like, they're completely different.

SIBEAL: Once you get your eye in, it's amazing what you notice. And it's really funny because the Shannon is just such a good example because we've spent so long monitoring them and they're resident. But you even start to observe different personalities over time. Like, some dolphins are absolute show-offs. [laughing]. They will approach the boat, they will breach, they will do everything, they're just show-offs. And then there's always the shy ones that'll avoid you like there's no tomorrow. And those are the guys actually that we want, because we have a hundred - a million - photos of the show-offs.  We're like, "no, we need the other ones".  And you start to see these really funny personalities. Like, we have Bob and John Costner - they're big boisterous males - they're bodyguards. And they're really protective of the females and the calves, so you'll always see these big, boisterous males looking after the females.  And then you've got other ones that just don't care, they'll go away, you know?

HOST: So, you've got a whole page on the website, you open it up and it's all whale tails! Is the fluke, is that the tail? Is that called the fluke?

SIBEAL: Yeah, the tail fluke, yeah. So, there's the Shannon dolphin project, where we use photo-identification for the bottlenose dolphins here in the Shannon. And we also have our WhaleTrack project, which is looking at photo-ID of the larger stuff.  Mainly hump-back whales. So, we track hump-back whales through their tail flukes, similarly to the dolphin dorsal fin, the underside of the tail in particular is unique to each humpback whale. So, they'll have different patterns - black and white patterns - they'll all form this different...some are predominantly white, some are less white, some are more black, kind of thing.

HOST: It's like a pigment, pigmentation kind of thing.

SIBEAL: That's the exact word, pigmentation, yeah. And we take photographs but that in itself is actually really tricky because you have to wait for the whale to dive. They'll only raise their tail fluke out of the water when they're going on a deep dive. So, you actually have a really limited amount of time to get the photo.

HOST: It's amazing to see a photo like that because you are waiting for that one single moment, and then he's gone and, aww, you didn't get it.

SIBEAL: And they could be gone for, you know, thirty minutes. [laughing]

HOST: And at the same time you don't want him to dive coz you're looking at him and, "don't go...aww, did you get a photo? Somebody? Yes?"

SIBEAL: Yes, happy days [laughing]. But again, when I say, like, you get your eye in...whale-watching, especially on boats looking at the large stuff...they tend to surface in regular enough patterns. So, whales will tend to surface three times before going on a deep dive. So with the humpbacks, let's say, and the fin whales, you'll get this big blow, which is water vapour when they're breathing out of their blowhole after a big dive. So you'll get this massive big blow and they'll stay at the surface for a couple of seconds, a minute, and then they'll go on a shallow dive. And they'll come up again, a slightly smaller blow, go down again on a shallow dive, come up again. And then they'll remain that third time at the surface typically for a few minutes. Not all of the time but that's a general...

HOST: But obviously the more time you spend around them, you're learning all these things. I mean, I've all...in like, what, the last thirty minutes, I've learned sooo much, just from...

SIBEAL: Ya, it's really funny, you know, even to the members who are just starting to get into headland watches or viewing from boats...and it could be an hour gone by and they're like, ohh, there's nothing here, but when you start to get your eye in, you're so focused for those sixty minutes, those ninety minutes. Because it's not by chance you're seeing them. You're looking actively for these particular cues that could signal where something is. So, it is all about putting in a bit of time and effort. Obviously if you're walking on the beach and you see lovely dolphins there in front of you, happy days! I mean, that's what we all want, that's amazing. But I'd say all around the coast of Ireland, if you look long enough, with patience, you will see something no matter where you are.

HOST: I love the idea of the effort-watching, that even if you finish it and you've seen nothing, you can still report it to you, and still feel like, well, I learned that at least.

SIBEAL: Ya, and it can be quite meditative as well, but exactly...if you're doing effort-watches and even if you don't see anything, once it's in good weather conditions, that's actually just as valuable to us than if you did see something because then we can say, okay, why isn't there? Or, you were watching here; another person was watching over there and they were over there, not by you so maybe why is that? Was it the food? Was it the tide was on a certain...let's say, in the Shannon, we know that the dolphins prefer some locations on an ebb tide and other locations on a flood tide. And we only learned that over time from people watching at all these different locations. And eventually we were able to match up the pattern. But if you're not out there watching, you can never get that information.

[Some noise of people entering the room. Host and Sibeal say hello.]

SIBEAL: This is Simon.

SIMON: I just want to check could you get...

HOST: Oh, Simon, I recognise you from the...

SIMON: Hey, hiya. Welcome.

SIBEAL: I think it's in the...

SIMON: No, did you...Mags just said like bird tracker data on it, I dunno if I got the file from...

SIBEAL: We had it on the sticky note, so...

[voices fading out and sounds of water and bird cries fading in]

HOST (voiceover): At this point I voted we go downstairs to see the exhibits area of the dolphin centre. We'll return later to the topics of strandings and the Fair Seas campaign. But first, let's talk anatomy...

HOST: So here we are in the...it's called the Dolphin Centre?

SIBEAL: The Shannon Dolphin Centre.

HOST: Shannon Dolphin Centre, okay. And you walk straight in and first thing you see is pictures and skeletons...so I'm in heaven here.

SIBEAL: We actually just rejuvenated the Dolphin Centre, so we got new displays thanks to a community heritage grant, with the heritage council. So, it's actually a bit new, if anybody would like to come and visit us, we've got new displays which I'll talk you through now. When you walk straight into the Dolphin Centre, you straight away see these three skeletons hanging up...

HOST: And these are real skeletons, they're not...

SIBEAL: These are all real. They all real that we've put together, and I'd just like to show you, this is a pygmy sperm whale. And it's a fully articulated skeleton so all of the bones are here. And it's really, really rare. Pygmy sperm whales are a deep diving species. We've never recorded them live in Irish waters, only through our stranding scheme do we know that they're here. Which is really cool. And actually, earlier this year, in 2022, we also identified, through our stranding scheme, a dwarf sperm whale. And they look remarkably similar but we took a skin sample for genetics and we found out that we also have dwarf sperm whales and pygmy sperm whales. So this is really, really cool. This skeleton is really rare to have a full specimen of the species, because they're so elusive. It's really hard to see them because they're really deep-diving so they can hold their breath for a long time. So I can show you here...when we're looking at skeletons and dead things, some really good ways to identify them are from the skulls. So different species will have different shapes and different size skulls and also different teeth. We have lots of lovely skull! The teeth, the shape and the size is a really good way to identify dolphin bones, to species level. Because you can even see with the pygmy sperm whale's teeth, they're very long and they're very sharp. If we look here at the harbour porpoise, which is Ireland smallest cetacean species -

HOST: They're so round!

SIBEAL: Ya. We call it a spatulate tooth.

HOST: He's got real vampire sharp teeth over there and this guy has little nubbins, that...just like chewing with. That's amazing!

SIBEAL: Ya, so even from these two species, and you can even see that the harbour porpoise skull is much, much smaller...

HOST: He's got a kind of cranial cavity...his head part is bigger?

SIBEAL: Exactly, and that's because the harbour porpoise is a coastal species, that doesn't really dive that deep. The pygmy sperm whale and the deep divers, their skulls tend to be a lot thicker because they, you know, they have to withstand the pressure of diving. And they have a lot more of this, kind of, fatty lipid in their head as well, which is really cool. But yeah, you can see from the teeth, just the shape of them, that spatulate shape is unique to a harbour porpoise. So if you ever see a bit of skull on a beach, and they've got teeth like that, you straight away know it's a harbour porpoise.

HOST: That that's what you've got.

SIBEAL: I'll...these two skulls now, I'll show you... This is some of my favourites. So, common dolphins are really pretty patterned dolphins. They're probably one of the most beautiful dolphins I think actually, they're gorgeous.

HOST: And then they're given a name like 'common dolphin'.

SIBEAL: I know! And you're like, ahhh...

HOST: Gorgeous dolphin, that's what I am!

SIBEAL: Ya, gorgeous dolphins, they are, they're lovely. And they're very similar in shape and size to striped dolphins, which are also a patterned dolphin in Ireland. And just as they're a really fascinating species to look at when they're alive, and swimming around, they also have beautiful skulls.  And I'm a bit of a nerd when it comes...I also love skeletons and dead things. So, they are very similar shape, very similar size. Their teeth are small and pointy and they have the same number of teeth in their jaw. So if you were to see a common dolphin and a striped dolphin dead on a beach, and the skin maybe has been scavenged so you can't make out what it is. A really cool way to tell them apart is the common dolphin, on the upper side of the jaw has this groove. And you can put your finger into it, if you're wearing gloves, or with a stick. The striped dolphin...the roof of the mouth of the striped dolphin is completely smooth and flat, and you can actually feel that.

HOST: That's on the upper palate?

SIBEAL: Exactly. So, the skull...and then you have this kind of long rostrum, or beak, and two holes for the blow-hole. That's their nose, their nostrils.

HOST: Is that the nostril? That's where the blowhole comes out?

SIBEAL: Exactly.

HOST: I'm just looking at the...you see all the dolphins and then there's one here and I was like, what is that? And it's a seal, of course. [laughing]

SIBEAL: Yeah [laughing]. We have a common seal, a grey seal and also a cow skull here.

HOST: What a brilliant idea, for comparison to size. Like, you would never...you'd say that's some kind of bull whale or something...and it's a cow!

SIBEAL: It's a cow. I know, and it does throw people. But the reason we have the seals and the cows, you know, they're mammals. So, the seal is interesting because they live, you know, they haul out on land but they do spend most of their time hunting and swimming around the sea. But dolphins are purely marine mammals. So, with their noses, you can see that they, ahm, the nose of a marine mammal like a dolphin is at the very top of their head, and that's to help them breath. So, they don't have to be laboured when they come up to breath. If you can picture yourself swimming, you have to lift your head out of the water or you have to turn sideways to breath. So, their nose, through evolution, has moved to the very top of their head, so they just need to pop up. Because seals still spend quite a lot of the time hauled out on land, their nose is more towards the front. And it's the same with the cow as well. So, you can see just the evolution from terrestrial, in the water seals to purely aquatic dolphin.

HOST (voiceover): Even though we don't have nostrils on top of our heads, we do share physical similarities with dolphins.

SIBEAL: You know, a really cool thing about dolphin bones, when we were talking about evolution there, is that they have a lot of the same bones that we do. So, we're mammals, so they're same-same but different. They've just adapted to life in water and to make it easier and more streamlined to swim. Their flippers, their pectoral fins, which are the guys on the side of the body, actually have the same bones as we do in our arms and our hands.

HOST: Like, these are like little wrist bones, that we have here.

SIBEAL: Exactly. Ya, so we have the exact same bones, they're just configured differently. That's their scapula, this would be their shoulder. And their radius and ulna, so their arm bones, have shortened into the pectoral fin, whether ours are quite long but their fingers, their fingerbones, their phalanges, have become longer than ours.

HOST: So, they're...that's almost like a humerus, tiny little humerus, and then these are the forearms, and then they've massive long fingers.

SIBEAL: And they also have...so, they were on land, you know, donkey's, donkey's years ago and when they moved full time into the water, they didn't need their back legs and actually it was cumbersome to swim with them, so they lost them. But here are the hind limbs.

HOST: Are they like little vestigial hind limbs?

SIBEAL: Yes! So, they're kind of embedded in them all but they don't do anything. But the bones are still left over from when they actually were on land.

HOST: That's their legs just shrunk up, shrunk up...still kinda there...might need them someday if we end up on land again, so we can grow them, but, ya...wow!

SIBEAL: It's, you know, similar to a human appendix. They're there, they don't do anything, they just float around. Yup.

HOST: And their ribs and their vertebrae all look the same as humans, with the same kind of spinal process and everything.

SIBEAL: Exactly. They've just changed to be able to swim, and that actually comes from...I can show you...dolphins and whales, apart from river dolphins, cannot turn their heads. And they also can't swim backwards. And that's because the first vertebrae are fused together, and that allows them to propel themselves forward. So, when they lift their head, the whole thing goes forward. You can lift your head but not move, but when a dolphin lifts its head, you know it's tail will...

HOST: Its whole body goes?

SIBEAL: Exactly. And then that's how you get your propulsion. We can learn so, so much from, you know, the stranding scheme and from skeletons and dead things. You know, even if I can turn your attention to this cabinet...so this is my teeth display (laughing), which I love. These are all examples of teeth. Their teeth are markedly different, and that's because whales and dolphins are hugely diverse and they feed on lots and lots of different things, depending on what habitat they live in. So, sperm whales, which is this really big tooth here, they feed on deep sea squid. But they actually don't really chew, they'll grab 'em and suck them in, is what we think. But they have these massive teeth, compared to a tooth of a bottlenose dolphin or common dolphins, which are quite small and numerous.

HOST: And is this...? This is the baleen?

SIBEAL: Exactly. So, these are baleen plates. Baleen is actually made from keratin, which is the same material as our hair and nails.

HOST: Yes, that's what it looks like, very overgrown nails (laughing).

SIBEAL: Very overgrown nails! You can...

HOST: It's quite hard! Oh, I thought it was more kind of feathery. You think it's all soft...that's quite hard.

SIBEAL: Ya. Baleen whales, so your large whales...your minke whales, your humpback whales, fin whales, up to blue whales which are the largest animal on the planet, will have these hanging from the upper jaw of the mouth. Down, like a curtain. And they've got these throat grooves on their lower jaw, that basically allow their lower jaw to expand like a massive balloon and take in lots and lots of water. So, when they take in a big gulp of water, those throat grooves can expand and then, using their tongue, they'll actually push that excess water out through the baleen and it acts like a filter. So, they're a type of filter feeder, really. And then all of the tiny krill, small forage fish like sprat, for example, will get stuck in the hair-like bristles. And then, using their tongue, they'll actually lick the inside of their mouths.

HOST: I was going to say, how do they get it off? [laughing]

SIBEAL: And that's how they feed, yeah. The dolphins will kind of use their teeth to catch their prey, flip it about [host laughing]. But yeah, it's really kind of, with the dolphins it's catch and down the hatch.

HOST: Catch and down the hatch [laughing]. Let's go to the big...so we're going outside now...look at this! Oh, wow!

SIBEAL: So, with the heritage grant actually, it's brilliant...because bones are natural they will eventually start to decay and a lot of our whale bones outside were starting to degrade and get broken down. So, with the heritage grant we were able to build this lean-to that'll protect them from the rain. So, I actually spent the summer scrubbing a lot of these bones with a toothbrush to clean them and restore them.

HOST: They're sparkling! [laughing]

SIBEAL: They're a lot cleaner now.

HOST: I keep turning around and I see something I think is a bench and it's a head.

SIBEAL: Loads of people think that the whale bones are actually pieces of wood. This is a sperm whale skull. So, sperm whales are again a really deep-diving species and you can just see the sheer size as well. I mean, it about the length of me, I'm five-five, five-six.

HOST: It's amazing.

SIBEAL: And the blow-hole...so the nostrils at the top of the head are unique of a sperm whale. They've got one large hole and one smaller hole. If you were to see them swimming offshore, the blow of a sperm whale will always go to the left. And that's due to this size difference. So it's a really good diagnostic feature.

HOST: Just a little side-note. Killer whales? They're dolphins?

SIBEAL: Yes! Ya, killer whales, they're the largest of the dolphin family. They're also the fastest of the dolphin family, which is really cool. But the thing that'll throw people all of the time...so, you have killer whales, we've sperm whales, we've pilot whales; they all have true teeth. They're all odontocetes. So, while a killer whale is actually a dolphin and it's the largest of the dolphin family, a sperm whale is the largest odontocete, and is also not really a whale. [laughing].

HOST: But it does kind of make sense when at you look at an orca, they don't look whaley, they look more playful...

SIBEAL: More dolphin?

HOST: I know they're quite vicious but (laughing) but they look more dolphiny.

SIBEAL: There's lots of really...yeah, cool differences...

HOST: That's from a really amateur point of view...

SIBEAL: Yeah, no, there's loads of really cool differences of why a whale is a whale and why a dolphin is a dolphin. Or similarly, why a porpoise is a porpoise and it all kind of goes into taxonomy...taxonomy [correcting pronunciation]. And taxonomy is quite a niche area of science, where people really interrogate why one thing is related to another and what that means so yeah, we won't get into that.

HOST: Please don't get into taxonomy.


HOST (voiceover): One impressive exhibit is the full spine of a fin whale, which curves around two sides of the outdoor area.

SIBEAL: These are the vertebrae of a fin whale. A fin whale is the second largest animal in the whole world. We're really lucky to have them in Irish waters. They come here on their migrations to feed and you can see them in coastal waters, so we get a lot of people actually seeing these guys from headlands. You don't need to go on a boat, they're one of the really cool species...and because they're so big as well...

HOST: Each of those vertebrae is about the size of, I guess the size of a small stool...with a bunch of them together it's just going all the way along the wall of the centre and around the corner and then... [laughing]

SIBEAL: It stays going. And here...

HOST: Are they heavy? Is it heavy to lift one of those?

SIBEAL: No, not really. A little...

HOST: Or is it light because it's bone?

SIBEAL: It's bone, so, I mean, it's heavy enough just due to the size of them. You would think...

HOST: It looks like cement. You would think it'd be impossible to lift.

SIBEAL: It's not dead weight, yeah. This...

HOST: What is that?

SIBEAL: So, loads of people always think it's a plank of wood but it's actually the lower jaw of a fin whale. I mean, the both of us could lie flat inside it.

HOST: We could both lie down inside it. Man, he'd have both of us for dinner, just gone!

SIBEAL: This here is the skull. It's kind of broken off a little bit. But - size comparison - this is a minke whale.

HOST: I know! He's so cute, he's like a little cat next to him.

SIBEAL: We can. The fin whale has to stay on the floor because I wasn't able to get a bench big enough to hold it, or strong enough to hold it, where our little minke whale is the smallest of the baleen species we have in Irish waters, he can stay on the...

HOST: It's a very interesting skull. It's kind of round. I mean, I made a comparison to a cat but that wasn't far off, he's the same kind of round and broad...are these eye holes?


HOST: No, they wouldn't be. of

SIBEAL: The eyes are kind of more towards the side than straight ahead.

HOST: Yeah, yeah...no whales have eyes out there. Wow!

SIBEAL: So, we also have, just our dolphin doodle boards and the whaling wall, for kids we have lots of colouring things and tactile touch boards for people as well to, kind of, immerse themselves.

HOST: You could immerse yourself totally. It is a really clean and well laid-out exhibit, like somebody obviously went through these bones with a toothbrush and cleaned everything, they're beautiful.

SIBEAL: [laughing] Thank you. It was brilliant to get the heritage grant because we have such a fantastic collection of whale bones but they were starting to degrade so I went through all of the bones, during the summer when the centre was closed because of Covid. We also have a really...it's probably one of my favourite artefacts is our collection of dolphin and whale ear bones. I love it because so many people always think, ah, dolphins don't have ears because, you know, they don't have ear lobes. Their ears are located in underneath the base of the skull. So, if we get a stranding, or a mass stranding, of a big whale, let’s say. A deep diving species. If you're able to extract the ear bone, and we can fix it in formalin fast enough, we can look at these tiny internal hairs of the ear and we can tell exactly what frequency of noise damaged the ear. And then you can relate it back to things like active sonar.

[sounds of seagulls and waves]

HOST (voiceover): Next we moved to the topic of strandings. Live strandings are the ones that get press coverage and great public interest and, like many people, I assumed that the priority in these cases is to rush over and get the creature back in the water as soon as possible. But this is not always the best action, as Sibeal will explain. Live strandings are in the minority. Most strandings are of dead cetaceans. But these are of equal importance to the group.

SIBEAL: So, similarly to the sightings scheme, the strandings scheme is also a long-term citizen science project. And there's kind of different types of strandings. So, we do have the live strandings, which means something has come ashore and it is alive. And then there's strandings of dead things. So, the group...we validate and run the official strandings database for Ireland, and we liaise with the National Parks and Wildlife Service, and the local authorities and everything to maintain that database. The dead side of things is record-keeping. We need to get pictures of them, species, how long the carcass is...

HOST: So that's a good opportunity at least to take photos and get some data.

SIBEAL: It is, and it's really informative with pictures because we can, again, tell species, we can tell, usually, if it's an adult, sub-adult, juvenile. If it's quite a fresh carcass, get insight into...was it emaciated, was it well-fed, all of that. Even before, like, doing a post-mortem or a necropsy. We can also look at fine details with good pictures from lots of different angles to see were there any big lesions on it? Or, are there signs of entanglement in fishing rope? And all of that kind of thing. Pictures can tell us a lot. So, with the dead cetaceans, we get in these pictures, these records. Again, we validate them and we can build up a picture of what's going on. So, let's say from 2011, we started to notice a massive increase in common dolphin strandings. So, because the stranding scheme has been running for a good thirty years, we now have a good baseline of what's normal, what's not normal. And we can identify these unusual mortality events. Which, in 2011, we started to see a very significant increase in common dolphin strandings in the winter months. And we're still learning why this is. And we do think a little bit of it is to do with climate change. So, common dolphins are pelagic species. They typically would be a little bit further off shore. But in the last number of years, with climate change and the change in distribution of their prey, they're coming more inshore. So, a little bit of it is that there's more common dolphins first of all in our coastal waters, so the more you have, the more you're going to get from natural mortality anyway. But also, fishing entanglement and bycatch is an issue with this particular species, and it's because common dolphins feed on the same prey that trawlers are trying to catch. So, you get that overlap, and that has been an issue with that species. Only in certain...

HOST: So, you've got the net picks up...just to kind of explain 'bycatch' - the net picks up the fish and the dolphin is in there and then the fishermen kind of yoink out the dolphin and then, throw them back in? And the dolphin might be injured.

SIBEAL: So, bycatch is the accidental catch of, you know, whale and dolphin, even turtles, seabirds - they can all be accidentally caught in fishing gear. So, it's...I've never met any fisher who goes out and wants to catch one. And they're always upset when they do, but it does happen. So, trawlers in particular don't have a traffic light system. They don't say fish come in, green light, dolphin, no you can't. They have the trawl open and they're scooping up the fish. And if you get common dolphins feeding on the same thing that the fishers are trying to catch, sometimes you get dolphins also getting caught up in it. Now, unfortunately, when that happens, they will cut the dolphin out of the net, and the easiest way to get a dolphin out of a net is to cut the appendages off. Which are the fins or the tail or sometimes you get them, you know, we see dolphins with broken beaks, broken backs washing up. And that's where they've cut the dolphin out of a net and it lands straight down on the deck.

HOST: So that's the thing with strandings, is sometimes the dolphin is sick or injured and he's kind of coming on shore to...because he can't...because just what you said earlier on, they have to come up to breathe. So, he might be having trouble and then he comes on and he's, like, taking a break, or trying to get relief?

SIBEAL: Exactly, yes. So that kind of goes into the live strandings which is more a welfare issue. With the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group membership, we run these trainings; live strandings courses. So we will train members up in how to assess an animal's body condition, how to stabilise them and give, basically, dolphin first aid. And then, after you assess the body condition, if they look healthy, they're good to go. We also teach you how to put them back into the water safely. But it absolutely is not a case where if you see a dolphin on a beach, or a whale, you go over and try and throw it back in [laughing]. Because there's lots and lots and lots of different reasons why a dolphin or a whale can strand. It could be that they are perfectly healthy. They're hunting fish and get caught out on a tide, and we see that happen a lot in Kerry in particular. And sometimes in Mayo. Because a lot of the bays there are very tidal, so they get caught out. So, we, you know...eight times out of ten know if there's a common dolphin live stranding there, it's got caught out on the tide, it's probably fine. But you still need to check that it's breathing okay; it's not overly stressed. Is it really thin? Is it bleeding? Is there anything oozing out of it, that could indicate that it's sick, you know? And if there are, there's different steps to follow, of...can we call a vet? Can we make this animal as comfortable as possible with palliative care? Because sometimes...

HOST: It might be more cruel to try and put them back in the water?

SIBEAL: Ya. Especially if it's a sick animal. And it's really stressed. Even knowing the skills in how to make that animal more comfortable. Because it's in a foreign environment, if you think about it. When it's on land, it's like, ooh, what's going on? So that's what the live stranding network...why it's really important to take a step back sometimes and think, okay, why is this animal here? Where are we? Did it get caught out on the tide? Is it healthy? If it's healthy, what's the best place to refloat it? Is it actually at this same location or should we move it? You know? And then if you're taking a step back and you're like, oh, it's not doing well, then you need to ask yourself, why is that animal here? Because they breath air. Because they're mammals. If they're sick, breathing can become laboured. So they will move into shallower water, so it's not as much effort to keep returning to the surface.

HOST: And then they get caught. Yeah, you wouldn't do it with a cat or a dog or a rabbit or anything. If they're, kind of, really sick and you're like, off you go, go on!

SIBEAL: Exactly. But it is that human instinct to be like, just put it back in the water. And it stems from a lot of people think that whales and dolphins are fish, not mammals.

HOST: That's where I was coming from [laughing].

SIBEAL: And you think, it needs to be in the water to survive! But actually, it doesn't. Actually, if a dolphin is sick, the quickest way you're going to actually kill it, is, it'll drown if you put it back in.

[sounds of water and sea gulls]

HOST (voiceover): In the book, Animal Madness, Laurel Braitman discusses this topic, saying that the beach may be acting as a life-jacket, holding them up to breath. She writes that one responder described it to her like this: Imagine that you're trying to cross a freeway, and you got hit by a bus, but you were able to drag yourself to the side of the road to rest. Would you want someone to come by and drag you back onto the freeway? So, if you do happen to find a life stranded cetacean, the best thing is, don't crowd the animal, and do call the Whale and Dolphin Group. Finally, to wrap up, we talked about the Fair Seas campaign.

SIBEAL: Fair Seas is a new campaign. There's eight NGOs and marine organisations involved. So, it's the first of its kind, actually, in Ireland. Never before have all of the leading marine NGOs worked together on a campaign like this. So, it's really exciting. And basically, our goal is; we're asking the government to fulfil their legal obligations of marine protected areas. So, at the moment, there's only 2% of our maritime area designated as a marine protected area. We are signed up to have designate and protect - with management plans in place - 30% of our marine area by 20230.

HOST: 30 by 30.

SIBEAL: 30 by 30. So that's kind of what the campaign is really doing. We seek to protect, conserve and restore Ireland's unique maritime environment. And it's really, really exciting. We just launched a new report - Revitalising Our Seas - that identifies areas of interest for these marine protected areas. So, out of the eight groups involved in the campaign, Birdwatch Ireland, the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group and the Irish Wildlife Trust compiled all of the best available scientific data from the large megafauna - whales, dolphins, seabirds - down to corals, seagrasses...absolutely everything in between. And we mapped it all to identify hotspot areas of importance in Irish waters for biodiversity. And we came to the conclusion, based on the best available scientific data, that there's sixteen areas that require immediate protection. Or that we would love to see protected. With meaningful management plans. Because, obviously, you know, everywhere is great, but these sixteen areas are biodiversity hotspots.

HOST: That's terrific, that you've identified, I mean that's a huge amount of work.

SIBEAL: You know, there are a lot of gaps in some of the data, so the methodology we used...you know, we only took species that we had good data for. And we acknowledge that there are some data gaps that we would like to be filled by the government. So, Fair Seas, is asking the government to fulfil its obligations of 30 by 30. We've compiled this report identifying 16 different areas that they could use to build the network, but at the end of the day the campaign is there to hold the government accountable as well.  Because NGOs like the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group, or Birdwatch Ireland, the Irish Wildlife Trust; we can't designate Marine Protected Areas. And we can't enforce them or make a management plan - the government must do that. So this is really just, kind of, holding it up to them, saying, you know...

HOST: And what do you mean by a management plan? What would that involve?

SIBEAL: So, a management plan...at the moment, there's 2% of our maritime areas protected. The Shannon Estuary would be one. It's an SAC for bottle nose dolphins and other organisms. But really there's no meaningful management plan. So, what it means is, it's a paper park. On a map, there's lines drawn around a box saying that's protected. But what's being done? To protect it from what? How is it actually being enforced, do you know? So, the Shannon is actually quite...it's the only good example because industry are very good and they work with us to make sure the dolphins are okay. Like, reducing the speed and trying to regulate noise pollution as much as possible. But in other areas, let's say, between Galway and Mayo, there's the west coast Connaught population there. That's an SAC for bottle nose dolphins also...there's nothing. If you asked a lot of the locals they wouldn't even know it's a Marine Protected Area. And that's not their fault. It's because the government have not had meaningful public engagement with any of the stakeholders. Nobody knows what they actually mean. What are you allowed do? What are you not allowed do in a Marine Protected Area? And the government have to be the people who decide on that and communicate it properly. So Fair Seas are asking for that to be done, and for it to be done properly, in an inclusive way. You know, Ireland is an island nation. No one is that far away from the coast. But I think for the last number of years, people have been quite removed from the sea. It's so funny, like. Even our capitol, Dublin, is a biodiversity hotspot. And it's one of the best places to see harbour porpoise, our smallest cetacean. And that's right in the middle of the city. You know? You can see dolphins from Bull Island, or down by the docks. You don't have to go out on a boat. That's so unique. And if people just started noticing nature a little bit and wanted to join a movement of ocean stewardship, they can.

HOST: They can!

SIBEAL: Check us out online.

HOST: [sounds of people entering the room]. Come on in!

SIBEAL: Simon has the coffee.

HOST: I'm going to say that I suppose the basic thing that people could do to help ye is to...ahm, membership.

SIBEAL: A hundred percent. Yeah, for anybody who wants to get involved, check us out online. Become members. We're on all of the social media platforms also, that you can keep up to date. Members do get certain perks.

HOST: They do!

SIBEAL: Yeah, like sailing on Celtic Mist, and the mission statement of the Irish Whale and Dolphin group is to raise the better understanding of cetaceans in Irish waters and conservation through education and research. So, by becoming a member, by learning about them, by telling somebody else about whales and dolphins, by making a podcast about whales and dolphins, you are furthering our mission of...I just want everyone to become a whale nerd!

HOST: Whale nerds! That is wonderful. Sibeal, thank you so much.

SIBEAL: No worries.

HOST: I really enjoyed that, I could stay all day.

SIBEAL: I could talk all day about whales and dolphins.

HOST: But somebody's bringing in coffee now so I think that's signalling [laughing]

SIBEAL: Coffee time! And the biscuits [laughing]

HOST: Time to go! Thank you, thank you very much.

[sound of water, waves and seagulls, fading out].