Principal Investigator - Dr Emer Rogan
The main research focus of the marine mammal and fisheries research group is based on conservation biology, ecology and management of marine vertebrates. Of particular interest are aspects of the life history, population dynamics, oceanography, foraging ecology, the development of appropriate fishing methods to reduce discarding and marine mammal bycatch and provide ecosystem based fisheries management advice. The research can be broadly divided into four themes. Research techniques combine fieldwork, laboratory work and modelling to achieve research goals.
1) Health status of marine mammals
The underlying objectives of these projects are to examine aspects of the biology of small cetaceans (and more recently pinnipeds) including diet, parasite burden, age, reproductive condition, basic morphometric measurements. The strandings programme was established in 1993 with the initial objective of providing baseline data on small cetaceans, which had not previously been carried out in Ireland. Since then the dataset has broadened to include large cetaceans (whales) and seals. The more recent BIOCET project specifically looks at the relationship between contaminants and reproductive success, by examining four cetacean species from different geographic locations, and dietary preferences, to look at how levels of contaminants vary between species, geographic locations and position in the food web. More recently, with Prof. T. Cross, we have been successful in obtaining funding to use genetic markers to examine the population and social structure in a number cetacean species.
2) Distribution of cetaceans in Irish waters Coastal waters
Bottlenose dolphins are listed as Annex II species under the European Habitats Directive, meaning that their habitat is in need of protection. Little in known about the distribution of cetaceans in Irish waters and over the last 10 years we have looked at how bottlenose dolphins use the Shannon estuary (now a candidate Special Area of Conservation cSAC), the implications for water-based tourism in the area, the distribution of bottlenose dolphins in areas outside the Shannon and how porpoises (another Annex II species) use Bantry Bay. Apart from land watches and boat-based surveys, we have used automatic bottlenose dolphin and porpoise click detectors (T-PODs) to quantify habitat use. Recent funding from Science Foundation Ireland will use a combination of photo-identification, genetic markers and stable isotope analysis to test the metapopulation hypotheses of bottlenose dolphins along the west coast of Ireland. Differences in bottlenose dolphin whistle repertoires are also being studied. 2006 (with Dr S. Ingram, Prof. T. Cross) Population structure of bottlenose dolphins along the west coast of Ireland 2007 (with A. Englund) Bottlenose dolphin whistle repertoires in Irish coastal waters 2008 (with Dr S. Ingram) Population viability analysis of bottlenose dolphins in the Shannon estuary 2008 (with Dr S. Ingram) Bottlenose dolphin site assessment - Connemara
There is very little information about seabird and cetacean distribution on the west coast of Ireland and into deeper waters. The recent EU LIFE programme funded the SCANS 2 project - http://biology.st-andrews.ac.uk/scans2/. SCANS 2 is the 2nd large scale programme of it’s type, with a focus on deriving abundance estimates for harbour porpoises and other small cetaceans in European waters. The more recent CODA programme focussed on offshore waters and at obtaining abundance estimates for common dolphins and the deep water species such as sperm whales and beaked whales. Results from this research will inform management and provide data to the oil and gas industry and the fishing industry in relation to sensitive and high-density areas for these species.
3) Marine mammal - fisheries interactions
While often an emotive issue, the incidental capture of cetaceans in fishing gear is often highlighted as of great conservation concern for some species and produces bad publicity for the fishing industry. A number of projects have been completed to help identify fisheries where cetaceans may be at risk and ways to reduce bycatch.
We been successful in obtaining funding for a number of fisheries projects; including examining the biology of hake, orange roughy and black scabbard, incorporating fish discards into stock assessments, assessing the impact of management decisions such as time and area closures and gear modifications in terms of stock recovery, particularly for cod in the Irish Sea. Recent projects (with Dr Sam Shephard) include the examination of age and growth in orange roughy using stable isotope analysis, while others (with Dr Edd Codling, University Essex http://privatewww.essex.ac.uk/~ecodling/) focus on Nephrops (Dublin Bay prawn), the application of signal detection methods to fisheries management and the development of a suite of measures that will contribute to rebuilding depleted fish stocks. The ecosystem approach to fisheries management project (in collaboration with colleagues in ADFC, CMRC, Queens’ University Belfast and Marine Institute) will allow for the integration of marine mammals and risk assessment into fisheries management.