GMIT researchers spot rare albatross on sea trip

Thursday, August 29, 2013 Press Office
Press Release

Marine research staff and students from GMIT recently returned from a major research trip onboard the Marine Institute vessel, the RV Celtic Explorer, during which they sighted groups of fin whales and a rare black-browed albatross, normally found in the Southern Ocean.

The marine scientists returned with tissue samples from bottlenose dolphin and Cuvier’s beaked whale from offshore waters some 320km south of Ireland over deep-sea canyons at the continental shelf-edge. They recorded over 70 hours of visual and acoustic survey in unseasonably calm conditions. The sighting of the rare black-browed albatross and fin whales were the most exciting discoveries on the trip

The GMIT team were among a group of 20 scientists from Ireland, Northern Ireland and Scotland, including the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group, carrying out a survey of cetacean, seabird and plankton off the Irish coast over 11 days (24 Feb – 5 March). Tissue samples were taken under licence for genetic and pollutant analyses using biopsy darting from a small inflatable boat which was launched from the ship.

This is the third in a series of surveys the GMIT team has been involved in onboard the Celtic Explorer. They were awarded funding for the trip under the annual Marine Institute Ship Time call.

The survey team was led by GMIT researchers Dr Joanne O’Brien and PhD student Conor Ryan.

Conor Ryan says “This was the first time that biopsy samples have been taken from cetaceans in offshore waters off Ireland, which remain poorly understood given the logistical challenges in studying them. This cruise has proven the feasibility of carrying out such sampling using the state research vessel.”

Dr Des Foley, Head of the School of Science at GMIT, says:  “In recent years, GMIT has built up a particular expertise and national leadership in this area of research and this latest survey is excellent evidence of the capability of our researchers, both staff and students.”

The Cetaceans on the Frontier III survey is supported under the Marine Institutes’ competitive ship-time scheme, funded through the Marine Research Sub-programme of the National Development Plan 2007–2013, as part of the Sea Change strategy.  

GMIT and the Marine Institute formed a strategic alliance in February 2011 with a view to developing further marine research capabilities, undergraduate and postgraduate marine science programmes and staff training & development initiatives in the two institutes. The alliance also  allows for reciprocal adjunct appointments between the two organisations.

Click on the following link to see programmes in the GMIT Science School's Dept of Life & Physical Sciences: