Record year for stranded whales
It's been a record twelve months for strandings of dolphins and whales along the coastlines around Ireland.
The Irish Whale and Dolphin Group said there was a total of 160 strandings and 1,565 sightings reported by end of 2011.
Group co-ordinator Dr Simon Berrow said this compares to just 92 of these mammals being washed up in 2010.
So why is this?
"In the last few years we were recording 130 or 140 a year. The figures for 2010 were very low, and, we think, this was due to the easterly winds that year. But now we are back up to the kind of level we expect.
"However, last year's was the highest level ever recorded by the group since the recording scheme was established in 1991."
Bad weather hampered sightings but the group also says the third highest total number of sightings was reported in 2011.
The group monitors the coastlines around the whole of Ireland - including the three coastal counties in Northern Ireland - Antrim, Down and Londonderry.
Dr Berrow said there were only two reports of mammals being stranded around Northern Ireland last year.
These both took place in June - and both involved harbour porpoises - one was stranded in Portrush and the other in Ballygawley.
"This doesn't mean fewer porpoises, dolphins or whales are dying," said Dr Berrow. "But it could mean people are not reporting strandings or sightings."
The 2011 statistics included a very high peak of common dolphins being stranded during February and a high number of porpoises ending up on the coast during the winter.
The group has also received samples from the 13m sperm whale which was washed up on Connemara's Omey island last week.
It has become such a tourist attraction that an estimated 8,000 people have already visited it.
There have been traffic jams on the minor routes to and from Claddaghduff, the closest mainland point to the island which can be reached at low tide.