Derisking Offshore Wind Power Improvement Potential in Irish Waters (DOWindy) – Marine Mammal Observer

Derisking Offshore Wind Power Improvement Potential in Irish Waters (DOWindy)


sixteenth – twenty eighth September 2019

A day within the lifetime of a Marine Mammal Observer

Marine Mammal Observer (MMO) right here – onshore I’m going by any variations of Jessica, offshore I’m principally known as the MMO. As a part of analysis cruises the place the deployment and use of technical gear might doubtlessly hurt or trigger disturbances to marine mammals, an MMO will be part of the cruise to make sure that any undertaken analysis causes minimal disturbances to our mild giants. I had the good pleasure to hitch the group of marine geologists on the DOWindy undertaking which investigates the continental shelf of Eire to enhance information for offshore wind vitality. Whereas MMO work is my major function on this cruise, becoming a member of the undertaking allowed me to realize a greater understanding of the ample alternatives for offshore wind manufacturing in Eire, which is a part of my very own PhD analysis undertaking at UCC and MaREI.
A essential a part of analysis in marine environments is safeguarding marine mammals which entails being looking out for any indicators for them to make sure that no hurt is brought about whereas finishing up the analysis. Skilled MMOs will advise the lead scientists on whether or not it’s protected to begin surveying the world. To take action, an MMO has to depend on eyesight, listening to, (and sense of odor – minke whales aren’t referred to as pungent minkes for nothing!) and a variety of endurance to detect marine mammals. Fortunately, marine mammals breath air, which signifies that they should floor ever so typically and that’s the window of alternative to identify them.
Sparker surveys carried out in waters which are lower than two-hundred meters deep require a 30 minute ‘pre-watch’, by which the MMO is looking out. Usually, an MMO will discover the potential highest level on a vessel from the place a watch will be carried out safely (fig 1), this ensures us the widest potential angled view and permits us to see a lot additional than if we had been positioned on the bow of the ship. MMOs additionally require 360° of unobstructed view, as we search for marine mammals in each course. 
For sparker surveys, MMOs have to have the ability to see at the least 1000 m from the place the sparker is deployed, that is additionally referred to as the mitigation zone. This additionally signifies that on foggy days, the place visibility is restricted, MMOs can’t perform a pre-watch safely, and sparker surveys can’t be undertaken till the climate clears up.
Fig 1: Pre-watch from the bridge as that is most frequently the most secure and most accessible highest level on a ship

Fig 2: A playful dolphin breaking the floor at sundown
Throughout the pre-watch, the crew awaits the go-ahead to deploy the sparker. If the MMO detects a marine mammal in these half-hour and inside the 1000 m mitigation zone, the pre-watch will restart from the second that the marine mammal has left the mitigation zone. Having the ability to inform how distant an animal is from the sparker is an actual MMO ability that takes some coaching (and the correct instruments, for instance a extremely good pair of binoculars). Typically dolphins are sneaky and like to indicate up proper earlier than the pre-watch is over, that means {that a} 30 minute watch can shortly flip right into a 60ish minute watch and even longer – in any case, dolphins are inquisitive creatures who like to analyze something and every part!
As a result of dolphins and seals are fairly small (in comparison with the huge ocean – fig 2), it may be tough to accurately spot and establish them, however a educated eye is aware of the distinction between a little bit wave and a fast dolphin splash. That additionally means, that when waves are too excessive or there are too many white caps constructing on the ocean floor, it turns into extremely tough to identify the dolphins, which signifies that MMOs can’t perform a pre-watch and the sparker can’t be began.
As soon as the pre-watch is over and the lead scientists will get the OK to deploy the sparker, the marine geologists should comply with a soft-start protocol, which is a 40 minute interval by which the sparker’s output will likely be elevated progressively till it reaches full drive. That is to guard the marine mammals that haven’t been detected through the pre-watch (some marine mammals can maintain their breath as much as 45 minutes), and permits the animals to maneuver away safely from the boat or in different instances, the place the sparker looks like an attention-grabbing factor to analyze, invitations dolphins to take a look at the sparker. 
Throughout the soft-start, there is no such thing as a requirement to cease or extend the sparker if a marine mammal is detected, nevertheless, MMOs will proceed to look out for the animals.
An MMO’s essential objective is to make sure that the carried-out analysis won’t trigger any hurt to marine mammals. And whereas it’s not formally a part of our job, MMO’s will probably level out (and in my case – fortunately exclaim) every time we spot any marine animals, each whereas performing MMO work but in addition after we are off responsibility i.e. in transit, as evening fall is approaching, or when visibility is just too poor to carry out MMO work. On this journey alone, we noticed numerous widespread dolphins (fig 3), just a few bottlenose dolphins, two fin whales (and doubtlessly a humpback), a sunfish, a yellowfin tuna, a seal, a faculty of sardines, tons of of gannets, and Manx Shearwaters. Whereas days offshore will be lengthy and exhausting, recognizing dolphins is at all times the spotlight of the day!
Fig 3: A typical dolphin leaping out of the water
Put up by Jessica Giannoumis, Marine Mammal Observer and PhD candidate at UCC and the MaREI Centre

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