Whale sightings off Donegal coast encourage educational and tourism efforts

Approaching within 30 feet of a minky whale out on the Atlantic takes courage – but such is his concern for the welfare of local marine life that’s exactly what Gareth Doherty did recently.

With the sighting of so many such baleen whales off the northwest Donegal coast over the last few weeks, Doherty, a skilled seaman (he manages Selkie Sailing in Gaoth Dobhair) and knowledgeable environmentalist, realized it would be a prime opportunity to try to identify them and monitor their movements and thus understand better the thriving whale population off Irish coastal waters.

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“It is only by recording the twenty-four cetacean species recorded thus far in Irish waters that we can protect them,” he said. “The fact that so many are now visiting us is wonderful news.”

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Doherty also believes that greater numbers of such healthy marine animals locally means greater opportunities to both educate people about this vital segment of sea-life and strengthen environmental tourism efforts throughout Donegal.

Here is yet another local cultural tourism-cum-educational project worthy of financial support. Udaras na Gaeltachta, the state-sponsored economic support group in the area, has refused to pay for much-needed equipment for Selkie Sailing.

Readers of this blog and of a series of articles I penned for the Donegal News will remember Gareth for the sterling work he and others did to bring important publicity about the plight of a pod of stranded whales at Ballyness beach in Falcarragh earlier this year.

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Not only did Gareth and colleagues highlight the stark inadequacies, both in equipment and training, of the National Parks and Wildlife Service to deal with such incidents (it has since become known that Donegal wildlife officials didn’t even take sample tissue from any of the dead whales to ascertain what may have stranded them and led to their slow suffocation) but they also banded together to organize marine lifesaving training programs for people that continue even now.

Visiting my Bun na Leaca home recently, Gareth said his intention was also to launch a series of educational visits to local schools to make presentations about the importance of marine life around our shores. It is an excellent idea and there seems no more qualified and enthusiastic a person to host such a program than Gareth.

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Minke whales grow to about nine meters in length, weigh around 10 tons and can live about 50 years. Their bodies are dark grey to black on the back and lightening to white on the belly and undersides of the flippers. There are often areas of light grey on the flanks, one just above and behind the flippers and the other behind the head. Those in the northern hemisphere usually have a diagonal white band on the upper surface of each flipper. Smallest of the seven great whales, minkes often enter estuaries, bays and inlets and feed around headlands and small islands.

Updates can be checked on Selkie Sailing.

The Irish Whale and Dolphin Group assisted with local training programs.

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Donegal Creameries and Kerry Group to lock horns at Croke Park

I bought a lottery ticket a few weeks ago at a community festival in the tiny village of Limenaria on the Greek island of Thassos.

And promptly won.

A goat.

Clover – a fond hello, a fond farewell

Friendly, a bit shy, Clover – as I chose to call her – gazed up at me out of big gentle eyes filled with an innocent curiosity about the world around her.

Unfortunately, as in the classic tales of summer romances, our time together was short-lived. Due to the labyrinth of EU regulations about the movement of animals across borders, I had to bid Clover a sad farewell and we parted company with a promise to see each other next year.

I was reminded of her while wandering leisurely along the dusty streets of Doi Mai, a rustic Romanian Black Sea coastal village Sunday evening while basking in the memory of Donegal’s glorious win over Dublin just an hour before.

That’s when I felt a soft nudge at my back.

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What’s happenin’ bro?

Turning, I looked down to see a pair of familiar eyes fixed upon me. At first, I thought, through sheer primordial instinct, Clover had managed to evade armed Greek, Bulgarian and Romanian border guards and leaped to freedom. Unfortunately, it was not so, but the eyes were just as inquisitive nonetheless. And behind the fellow before me were many more of his four-legged compatriots, all out for a leisurely afternoon stroll just like me. They seemed so content, easy-going and full of spirit I felt like exhorting them into a ‘Goats Don’t Shave’ rendition of ‘Jimmy’s Winning Matches’ in honour of the day’s stunning victory.

Then it dawned on me. Where are all the goats that used to roam the length and breadth of Donegal? There’s hardly any to be seen now even though historical records indicate there used to be literally thousands of them. Aside from singer Pat Gallagher and his wonderful group, we don’t seem to celebrate the many wonderful facets of this delightful creature anymore. Indeed, we seem to be downright biased against them – with no particular reason for being so.

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Shy but curious.

Even though grass is greener in Donegal than Romania’s or Greece’s scorched summer earth; even though rain is much more plentiful; even though, with the same amount of food, a goat gives around four litres of milk, four times more than a sheep; and even though ample medical evidence shows its milk and meat to be healthier in so many ways than that of both cow or sheep, we seem to be definitively an ‘anti-goat’ species. It’s tantamount to animal racism.

What can these innocent creatures possibly have done to us to merit such stark hostility? Is it linked to some warped religious notion about Satan and his horns? About Baphomet, the enigmatic, goat-headed figure linked to occultism and witchcraft? Looking down the sunlit street into the gentle, innocent eyes of those around me, so filled with undisguised curiosity, it was hard to imagine anything devilish about them at all.

In fact, rather than posing a threat to our moral or physical well-being, goats are our greatest asset, the list of their attributes being impressively substantial. For example, goat’s milk boasts a variety of health benefits, ranging from blood vessel support to cancer prevention. It eases the pain of migraines and premenstrual syndrome and reduces the chances of breast cancer.

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Hello, may we help you?

The ‘World’s Healthiest Foods’ website suggests people with lactose intolerance may have less trouble drinking goat’s milk, partly because it boosts copper and iron metabolism. This quality may also make goat’s milk useful against mineral absorption problems. ‘The Journal of Nutrition’ says goat’s milk can ease conditions such as bowel inflammation and arthritis and that the high level of potassium may also reduce the risk of high blood pressure and atherosclerosis.

Now, as goat’s milk has a higher concentration of calcium than cow’s milk which helps prevent bone loss and that there will be no shortage of bone-crunching tackles in three weeks time at the Croke Park finale, would it not be a good idea for someone with initiative to collect a few dozen litres of this fine liquid and start delivering them forthwith to the training camp of McGuinness, Murphy & Co? Also, it must be added, the he-goat is the epitome of masculine virility and creative energy,

With the Sam at stake and a confident Kerry as the opposition, every little helps. Donegal Creameries, are you listening? Get in there before the Kerry Group does.

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Waiting for a high ball