Programme discoveries so far


  • Twenty species of cetacean (i.e., whales, dolphins & porpoises) were recorded, analysed and mapped with almost 2,200 sighting records accumulated across both projects and over two years of field study. 
  • A cumulative abundance of 380 Sperm whales was found in this region, using acoustic detection and tracking methods.
  • Species such as the Beluga/White whale were found - a mainly Arctic species
  • Minke whales were the most frequently observed and abundant baleen whale species, numbering approximately 12,000 in summer and 5,000 in winter and there were significant sightings of Minke whale calves.
  • Fin whales occurred in Irish waters both in summer and winter, the analysis showing the continental slope and nearby deep waters to be an important area for this species, possibly for feeding and/or migration. 
  • Many sound recordings were made of rarely-seen beaked whales, which are deep-diving offshore species poorly known to science.
  • At least three species of beaked whales were recorded during the ObSERVE surveys, primarily in deep oceanic waters along the continental margin, the Porcupine Basin and eastern Rockall Basin.  The records collected during the aerial project were sufficient to provide the first estimates recorded for this study area of 2,500 individuals in summer and 4,000 in winter. 
  • Endangered Blue whales could be detected underwater up to 115-200km away and strong seasonal patterns in their sounds were noted and described.


  • Considerable variation was found in the distribution, abundance and movements of dolphin species.
  • Bottlenose dolphins were much more abundant during the winter than the summer, with densities in the second winter (2016-17) being among the highest ever recorded.



  • Aerial surveys highlight the importance of the Atlantic Margin for seabirds with almost half a million seabirds located within the study area during both summer and winter, with bird densities highest in coastal areas.  10,000 sightings of seabirds were recorded, representing 24 species.
  • The Western Irish Sea is shown to be of major importance for seabirds. 6,687km of fine-scale aerial surveys were carried out there in 2016. These estimated 100,000 birds present in summer, 90,000 in winter with migrating seabirds boosting these estimates to 300,000 in the autumn.
  • Seabirds such as Puffins, Guillemots, Petrels, Gannets and Shearwaters were regularly recorded in summer, while Kittiwakes, Gulls and Fulmars were more commonly recorded in winter.
  • White-tailed Tropicbirds were found during the project. This is a species usually seen in the tropics.

Other images taken during ObSERVE Programme