Darting with a Porpoise.
Harbour porpoises, often referred to as Ireland’s smallest whale, along with their fishy friend, the Blenny, are adorning the windows of the Dart, as part of the Dublin Bay Biosphere Dart Campaign. When you think about it, that make lots of sense, as the Dublin Bay Biosphere, the Dart, and Harbour porpoises could almost be said to be made for each other. The Dublin Bay Biosphere, when you include its Buffer and Transition zones, extends from Killiney Bay all along the Dublin coast to Howth and on to Malahide. And as its many passengers know, the Dart follows the coastline from Greystones in Co Wicklow, along Killiney Bay, through coastal Dublin for most of its route and finishes in Howth or Malahide. Many of its stations are situated close to the best places for spotting Harbour porpoises so the three, Biosphere, Dart and porpoises, really do make a perfect match.
So let’s take a trip on the Dart, stopping along the way to look for porpoises. Binoculars are nearly essential on this journey, although if we are really lucky we might see some porpoises very close to shore. We’ll start in Greystones, but even before hopping onto the train, we can stroll down to the beach or to the end of the new pier, and spend a few minutes looking out to sea. First, we need to know what to look out for. Porpoises are not like dolphins, as they don’t do spectacular acrobatics that would make them easy to spot. nor are they like the great whales that draw lots of seabirds to themselves as they feed. Spotting them can be a challenge, as what we are looking for is a small fin, plus a little bit of the upper body breaking the surface a few times over about 30 seconds before disappearing under water for a couple of minutes. Seeing them at all is challenge enough, getting photo’s or video of them, is even more difficult, so we are lucky to have this super footage of a mother and calf pair, taken from Howth recently, by Irish Whale and Dolphin Group member, Anna Melescik, to show us what we might expect to see.
We leave Greystones and while on the Dart to Bray we might even be lucky enough to glimpse a fin or two from the train as it moves from one tunnel to the next along the cliff, before stopping at Bray station, with its lovely display of mosaics celebrating the stations history. From here we can walk back to Bray Head and watch from there or, take the shorter stroll to the Harbour and try our luck there.
Back on the Dart again and our next stop is Killiney, where we might get lucky and once again see a few porpoises from the comfort of the train, but being highly motivated types, we will hop out here and walk along the Vico Road towards Dalkey, keeping a watch out to sea as we go. Unlike at Greystones and Bray, which were outside it, we are now in the Dublin Bay Biosphere itself. If we follow the coast road we arrive at Dillon Park, overlooking Dalkey Island and that can be a great spot for seeing porpoises. Unfortunately, they seem to spend a fair amount of their time on the far side of the island, out of sight from land. Hopefully, one or two might pop around our side of the island and be visible from our vantage point. On a number of occasions, small groups of Bottlenose dolphins have spent a few days hanging around here. So even if the porpoises don’t show up, we just might see something. Porpoises and Bottlenose dolphins don’t get on particularly well, so if we see one species, we are unlikely to see the other. The waters around Dalkey Island are also home to lots of seabirds, so there is always something to see.
From here, we can either walk along the promenade, or take the Dart to Dun Laoghaire, and head out to the end of the West Pier. This gives us a good view over a large area of Dublin Bay and as well as porpoises, a good variety of seabirds to be seen here at different times of the year.
CREDIT: Irish Whale and Dolphin Group
Blennies are tiny sea animals with long bodies that live in shallow water along the sea-shore. Some species are very colourful, while others are duller in colour and may have a few spots or stripes so they can blend into their habitat. This makes it more difficult for predators to see them.
If the waves coming in from the sea are very strong, they can hide underneath rocks to protect themselves. Blennies have teeth that grow in their lips and these help them to scrape algae from rocks so they can eat it. They also love small animals and plants in the water, known as plankton.
Blennies are great fun to watch as they move through the shallow waters during times when waves are crashing on the shore. Instead of using the fins on their bellies to swim about in the water, they form them into a sucker to keep themselves attached to the rocks and stop themselves being swept away.
Credit: Ask About Ireland