A RECORD number of whales and dolphins have been washed up on the Irish coastline over the past year.
At 160 strandings, this is the highest number since the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group (IWDG) first began keeping records in 1991.
Among the strandings was a 15.3m whale found last month at Maugherow Peninsula on the Co Sligo coast.
IWDG co-ordinator Dr Simon Berrow said this was a sharp rise on the 92 strandings recorded the previous year
He added that the conservation group felt the low number recorded in 2010 was due to strong easterly winds taking the mammals and/or the carcasses off-shore.
"2010 was an unusually low year but it is back up to what we expected," he said.
"What is interesting is that 16 different species were stranded, and that we didn't get any mass strandings."
The two species most frequently beached each year are harbour porpoises and common dolphins.
There was also a marked spike in the number of common dolphin strandings during February, while many porpoises were washed ashore during the winter period.
In addition to the 160 strandings, 1,565 sightings were reported to the IWDG website.
It is the larger mammals such as whales which tend to attract the most interest from the public due to their size and the rare chance to view the sea creatures up close.
Meanwhile, thousands of people have been flocking to the remote Omey Island between Clifden and Cleggan in Co Galway to view the carcass of the 13m sperm whale which washed up there last week.
It has been causing traffic gridlock on the small routes at Claddaghduff, the closest mainland point to the island which can be reached at low tide.
Dr Berrow said it was a fascinating sight. "It is really big. We get one or two stranded every year. It was probably dead a week when it got washed in," he said. "We had a live stranded sperm whale in Waterford in August. They attract much more attention and are much more controversial."
From a scientific point of view, tests on the carcasses can tell a lot about pollution and genetics, he added.
"We don't do post-mortems on the mammals in Ireland," he said. "Sometimes there is no obvious reasons why they died; they are not sick. We can only speculate what might have caused them to die from the stranding pattern."