Skip to main content

Do we want our beaches strewn with stranded dolphins?

Sinead Mercier -

It’s time for the government to ban fossil fuel exploration and invest in the real local, rural renewable economy on our coastlines, writes Sinead Mercier.

DID YOU KNOW that UCC recently recorded that 250,000 bottlenose dolphins come to the Irish Atlantic every summer?

That’s the world’s known population of dolphins. At least 24 species of rare and beautiful whales, dolphins and porpoises use Ireland’s seas as a migration route- including blue whales, humpback whales and even the odd Free Willy.

Ireland is so popular with Fungie’s friends, it was designated a whale and dolphin sanctuary in 1974.

Rich seas

While Ireland’s seas are rich with the presence of friendly cetaceans like whales, dolphins and porpoises, it is not rich in oil or gas. Out of just under 160 wells drilled since 1962, only 2 commercial discoveries of gas have been found.

This is a record low that has existed in a country with the second lowest tax take in the world, and a governing Petroleum Affairs Division (PAD) that has never once conducted an Environmental Impact Assessment of industry activities offshore

To map the seabed for fossil fuel deposits, sonic cannons, also known as seismic airguns, are towed behind boats creating dynamite-like blasts— repeated every ten seconds, 24 hours a day, for weeks and months at a time. At acoustic levels 100,000 times more intense than a jet engine.

As highlighted by the Irish documentaries Ireland’s Deep Atlantic and Atlantic the film, these seismic blasts are essentially “waves of death”, causing disorientation and internal bleeding in whales, dolphins and porpoises for distances of up to 100 miles.

Extensive effects of seismic testing

New evidence from Nature Journal in 2017 shows that a single blast kills 100% of zooplankton larvae – the basis of the marine ecosystem – and 64% of adult krill for at least 0.7 miles It destroys fundamental aspects of the ocean’s fabric. This is merely the most recent of many peer-reviewed scientific studies showing the extensive effects of seismic testing on all levels of the ocean food-chain.

As long as ten years ago in 2007, the International Whaling Commission found that 250 male fin whales appeared to stop “singing” for up to several months during seismic testing.


The damage is again exacerbated by the fact that it is unclear who has overall responsibility for monitoring industry operations. The PAD is a body that regulates and promotes Ireland as a destination for oil and gas, and monitors the industry for environmental and social purposes.

This has already resulted in lax regulation, with the worst example being the Corrib scandal where the Department wilfully ignored project-splitting on environmental impact assessments.


Faced with a Department in thrall to fossil fuel industry executives, it is ordinary Irish fishing communities in Kerry and Galway that are having to take on the role of watchdog. This is nothing new; fishermen from Norway to New South Wales have had to take on the hard fight to stand their ground against fossil fuel exploration that seeks to destroy the source of their livelihoods.

The full damage being done is as yet unknown– the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group reported 2017 as the worst year on record for beach strandings with a 30% rise in dolphin deaths. Fewer fin and blue whales have also been recorded in the Porcupine Basin – potentially a key mating ground – since seismic testing began there in 2013

Yet the Department of Climate Action has not once exercised its power to require an Environmental Impact Assessment under EU Regulations. The Department or the National Parks and Wildlife Trust has not even bothered to update their guidelines to incorporate any of this new information on the threat of seismic.

Treasures in abundance

We have Atlantic treasures in abundance. A brief follow of the hashtag #TasteTheAtlantic on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram will show you the amazing small to medium enterprises that are waking up to the value of our fresh, clean fish, shellfish and seaweed.

Do we want to see those luxurious, unique views peppered with drilling platforms and our beaches strewn with stranded dolphins, deaf and dying?

It’s time for the government to ban fossil fuel exploration and invest in the real local, rural renewable economy on our coastlines.

Sinead Mercier is a Researcher for the Green Party of Ireland.

Posted Date: 
8 July 2018