Mooney Goes Wild, Sunday January 14th 2018

If you notice something unusual in the natural world in your garden or on your travels or have a question about wildlife, ask the Mooney Goes Wild experts! We will do our best to get you the answer but remember a picture paints a thousand words so, if it is possible and safe to do so, take a picture and send it to

On Mooney Goes Wild tonight: Special - The Bergen Whale

Viewed from space, the Earth looks like a blue marble.  Its oceans are, far and away, its defining visual characteristic.  They are home to the largest animals that have ever lived: whales.  Some whale species favour surface waters, while other dive to extraordinary depths.  The deepest diver of all is Cuvier’s Beaked Whale, a species which dives so deeply, in fact, that it is rarely ever seen by humans, except when the occasional individual beaches itself or a corpse is washed ashore.

Left: Image Credit: NASA's Earth Observatory; right: Image Credit: University Museum of Bergen

One of the most recent live strandings of this near-mythical creature occurred in January 2017 on the island of Sotra, close to the city of Bergen, on the southwestern coast of Norway.  The whale was still clinging to life when discovered, but it was in very poor health and suffering greatly.  After several unsuccessful attempts to coax it back out to sea failed, the difficult decision was made to put the poor creature out of its misery.

The whale’s sad death gave scientists and marine researchers an unprecedented opportunity to try to work out what exactly had happened to this Cuvier's Beaked Whale.  A post-mortem was carried out, and the reason for the whale’s distress soon became horrifyingly apparent.  In its stomach were found at least 30 plastic bags.  With so much undigestible plastic clogging its digestive tract, the whale had little room left for food.  It was slowly, painfully starving to death when it ran aground.  It could not have survived.

Image Credit: University Museum of Bergen

To find out more about the story of this whale, and the enormous problems that plastic pollution cause for marine life around the world, presenter Derek Mooney and zoologist Dr. Richard Collins travelled to Bergen, in Norway.  There, they spoke with Helge Søfteland, a producer with NRK, the Norwegian national broadcaster.  He told them about how the story generated a huge media interest around the world in plastic pollution in our seas...

Left: Helge Søfteland; Right: Image Credit: University Museum of Bergen


Terje Lislevand is Associate Professor in the Department of Natural History, at the University Museum of Bergen.  He shows Derek and Richard the various plastic bags that were found inside the stomach of the whale, which are now housed inside the Museum...

Images from the University Museum of Bergen; bottom right: Dr. Richard Collins (l) with Prof. Terje Lislevand (r)

Images from the University Museum of Bergen; display of the plastics bags found in the stomach of the Bergen Whale; Prof. Terje Lislevand; 15 tonnes of plastics end up in the ocean every minute; Richard Collins & Helge Søfteland outside the University Museum of Bergen

To learn more about the Bergen Whale, visit or click below to watch the video (in Norwegian with English subtitles)...

To watch the Sky News documentary A Plastic Whale, click here.


So how can we protect our seas and oceans?  Can we, individually, have any impact?  One man who has dedicated his life to removing plastic from our oceans is Kenneth Bruvik.  He has been on a mission to clean the Norwegian coast, as he explained to Derek and Richard...

Top left: Richard Collins, Kenneth Bruvik & Helge Søfteland; top right & bottom left: some of the litter found during the clean-up; bottom right: Richard Collins & Kenneth Bruvik

From left: Kenneth Bruvik on the boat; Richard Collins & Kenneth Bruvik; Kenneth with Helge; Richard & Kenneth examine some of the plastic little they have found


Plastic is seen as utterly disposable - and yet it simply doesn’t go away: a single plastic bottle will remain intact for over 100 years without decomposing.  Other plastics will persist for more than a millennium, buried in landfill sites, clogging our rivers or polluting our beaches.  We are producing more and more of it: around 350 million tonnes per year, and rising.  By 2050, the weight of the plastic in our oceans will exceed the weight of the fish.

Dr. Lisa Emelia Svensson; Photo by IISD/ENB | Francis Dejon

Dr. Lisa Emelia Svensson is the Director for Ocean, at the UN Environment, heading up the marine and coastal ecosystem work program.  She talks to Derek about what is being done by international governments to combat marine pollution...

For further information about the work of the UN Environment regarding our oceans, visit


Rowan Byrne

Rowan Byrne is Principal Marine Environmental Scientist for the global engineering consultants Mott McDonald, and is shocked and horrified by the sheer scale of the problem.  He tells Derek about a conference he in organised in June 2017, in the English university town of Cambridge, which aimed to bring together interested parties to discuss solutions to the problem of marine litter and pollution.  He also discusses fatbergs, and the problems that flushing wet wipes down the toilet can cause...  For more advice on what not to flush, visit

For further information about Rowan, click here.


Niall Hatch

Whales are far from the only creatures that are being severely harmed by the huge quantities of plastic that have entered our marine ecosystem.  A vast range of molluscs, crustaceans, fish, turtles and birds are also suffering due to our folly, greed and neglect.  Niall Hatch, who is Development Officer with BirdWatch Ireland, is extremely concerned about the effects of plastics on marine life and has been seeing the problem growing.  He tells Derek about the impact of plastic on Ireland's seabirds...

For more information on BirdWatch Ireland, visit


Heidi Acampora

Dr. Heidi Acampora, a Postdoctoral researcher in the Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology's Marine and Freshwater Research Centre, has been examining the infiltration of marine food chains by plastic litter, as well as the dire consequences for the marine animals that are unfortunate enough to consume it.  She tells Derek and Richard Collins more about her research, and about why one bird species, the Fulmar, appears to have been hit especially hard by the abundance of plastic around the Irish coast.

To read more about the work Heidi has been doing, visit


Dr. Simon Berrow with the skull of a Cuvier's Beaked Whale

According to a recent study, marine debris has been found in 8.5% of whales and dolphins in Ireland.  In one of the largest studies of this kind undertaken, it was discovered that amongst 528 creatures autopsied, a massive 93% contained plastics.  Dr. Simon Berrow is a Lecturer at GMIT, an Executive Officer of the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group ( and Project Manager at the Shannon Dolphin and Wildlife Foundation (  He was also a co-author on this study; he told Derek that while larger marine debris is widespread, the smaller fractions, known as microplastics, were found in all compartments of the digestive tracts of all those individuals examined for them.  Another finding was that plastic bags were the most frequently recorded item found in deep diving whales...

For more information on this study, which was carried out by GMIT, UCC & IWDG, visit

***To view more photos from the making of this special edition of Mooney Goes Wild, please visit our Flickr page!***

First Broadcast 14th of January 2018

Repeated RTÉ Radio 1, 14th of April 2019

Mooney Goes Wild presented by Derek Mooney airs Monday nights 10PM RTÉ Radio 1. Please visit our programme archive at the top right of this webpage for previous programmes, documentaries and podcasts. You can contact us at

The Dawn Chorus

Back from the Brink is a one-hour programme that plans to celebrate the hard work, dedication, and commitment of conservationists who are striving to save endangered species from extinction. Here, Derek Mooney discusses this unique, pan-European natural history event.

I've been working in natural history broadcasting for over 30 years now. In that time, I’ve seen some truly wonderful sights, but I’ve also seen first-hand the problems that wildlife is facing, both in Ireland and around the globe. There has been a growing awareness amongst the general public, particularly in the last few years, of the threats to our environment and biodiversity.

In many ways, this has been long overdue, but I’m also aware that for a lot of people the current state of our planet can seem overwhelming, even depressing. We are increasingly bombarded by tales of doom and gloom. Issues like climate change and animal extinction are too often made to seem insurmountable, as though tragedy is a foregone conclusion, but that’s simply not true. It’s not too late to help nature. 

We need to find a way to bring some much-needed optimism back into the conservation. That’s definitely what attracted me most to Back from the Brink. Through my work over the years on Mooney Goes Wild, in particular, I have met thousands of dedicated scientists and conservationists out there, fighting hard to save endangered species and working miracles. By telling some of their stories, I thought we could inspire people and show that there is every reason for hope.

Nature is resilient, and if given a chance it can recover from all sorts of abuse. It was once thought that the Red Kite, a stunning bird of prey, was lost forever from Irish skies, shot and poisoned to extinction. To see dozens of them now flying over the Co. Wicklow countryside again, all thanks to the dedication of people who simply weren’t prepared to give up, was a humbling and inspirational experience.

The same goes for the enormous efforts that I witnessed to safeguard the growing populations of Wolves in Italy, Brown Bears in Spain and Eurasian Beavers in The Netherlands, to give a few key examples from the programme. Perhaps the most sobering part for me personally was seeing the dramatic effects that climate change has wrought on the Swiss Alps, where glaciers are rapidly melting and high mountain habitats are disappearing, along with the unique animals that live there. Even then, against all the odds, people are fighting back.

Back from the Brink is not just a story about animals. At its core, it’s really a story about people. We, humans, have caused our planet’s problems, but people are also the key to fixing them. Literally every conservationist I interviewed for the programme spoke with such passion about their work, coupled with an unshakeable belief that what they were doing was utterly worthwhile, and I think that shines through on the screen. It must do because even the production crews, and there were many across Europe, not least our own team here in Ireland, headed by Colm Crowley from RTÉ Cork and scientific advisor Niall Hatch, were totally dedicated to this project.

We want to empower as many of those viewers as possible, and to reinforce the truth that every single one of us can play a role in saving endangered species and the wider environment. It’s not just about doing your bit – it takes much more than a bit, it takes a lot! – but about understanding that we need to accept fundamental changes to the way in which we live our lives. Having seen what can be achieved when the will is there, it will be well worth it, believe me.

Watch Back from the Brink at 6:30pm on Monday, 30th of December on RTÉ One.

Second Chance Archive

Have another chance to hear some of our Mooney Goes Wild programmes uncovered from the RTÉ Radio 1 archive. Click the links below for more information. 

The Dance of the Cuckoos - Mooney Goes Wild Special 

The Blue Whale - Mooney Goes Wild Special

Feathers - Mooney Goes Wild Special

Bergen Whale - Mooney Goes Wild Special

Sparrows  - Mooney Goes Wild Special 

Wildlife Film Makers - Mooney Goes Wild Special 

The Common Swift - Mooney Goes Wild Special 

E-mail:        Facebook:          Twitter: @NatureRTE

Ireland and Climate Change: Are we up for it? Professor John Sweeney - Maynooth University

When the countries of the world assembled for the now famous Rio Earth Summit in 1992 to adopt the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, they undertook to take the necessary steps to prevent ‘dangerous’ climate change. Defining what was dangerous proved a difficult task, however, and largely as a result of the European Union’s prodding, a value of 2oC warming above pre-industrial times was generally adopted as the criterion. Gradually the rest of the world fell into line with this, except the Small Island Developing States of the Indian and Pacific Oceans. For them this was something that would have condemned their island homes to submergence beneath the rising sea. So when the Paris Agreement emerged in 2015, it had a nuanced objective: "to hold increases in global temperatures to well below 2 °C and pursue efforts to limit increase to 1.5 °C." To flesh out what the 1.5oC target would actually mean, the Conference asked the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change to produce a Special Report, which they did in October of last year.

The report confirmed that significantly greater climate problems would be experienced at a warming of 1.5oc compared to the present day, even though we have already warmed by 1oC over pre-industrial levels. These would include increases in extremes of heat and heavy rainfall events in several regions, accompanied by more frequent and more intense droughts. But most worrying was the realisation that the remaining carbon budget to avoid this warming would only last for a decade or two at the current rate of greenhouse gas emissions. After this budget was exhausted the carbon would be in the atmosphere for a century or more. Globally, emissions needed to fall by 45% on 2010 levels by 2030. It was this realisation that galvanised many groups and energised many individuals around the world, culminating in the mass protests we see around us. This was true, even in an Ireland whose compliance with its international obligations are failing miserably and its laggard status approaching the level of a national shaming. As a developed country with historical responsibility, we should be bearing more of the burden of tackling this problem than most other countries. Instead our per capita emissions are 50% higher than the EU average and place us as the second worst contributor to climate change on a per capita basis within the EU. The recently released 2018 figures confirm we are now 5M tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions over the limit we agreed solemnly with our EU partners over a decade ago.

At the same time as we declared a climate emergency in Ireland this year we also declared a biodiversity emergency. This was in recognition that Ireland was also experiencing serious threats to its species and habitats, partly due to climate and also a number of other drivers, such as agricultural intensification. Another UN report in spring 2019 confirmed that human actions are now threatening more species with global extinction than ever before. The current rate of species extinction is 10-100 times higher than it has averaged over the past 10 million years. Around 1 million species already face extinction, many within decades.

In Ireland, our peatland, coastal marsh and mountain habitats are particularly at risk. 29 different bird species and 120  species of flowering plants are in serious decline. Some bird species such as the Corn Bunting and Corncock have become extinct. Others such as the Curlew have been decimated and many species such as the pearl mussel, bumblebee, barn owl and marsh fritillary butterfly face serious threats. At the same time invasive species are moving into newly favourable ecological niches providing additional competition and stress to native species.

Ireland has warmed by 0.5oC over the past 30 years and is likely to warm by a similar amount over the next 2-3 decades. This  will have impacts on our growing season, making crops like maize much more feasible to grow. However, projected changes in rainfall are likely to be the main climate change problem Ireland will face. Already we are seeing an increase in intense rainfall events. Increased winter flood problems will result and the government will need to find €1B of taxpayers’ money to protect against future events. Winter storms are also likely to become more problematical. Winter 2013/14 was the stormiest winter in Ireland for at least 143 years. Winter 2015/16 was the wettest winter on record over half of Ireland. Former hurricanes such as Ophelia and Lorenzo pose additional late autumn threats which are likely to increase as the Atlantic warms and summer droughts will bring their own difficulties for agriculture and municipal water supplies. All in all, it is changing weather extremes which will bring the message of climate change home to Irish people and instil in them the urgency of playing a constructive role in international negotiations.

Conscious that it their legacy that is under threat, young people have been in the vanguard of protest. The ‘Fridays for Future’ schools protest has taken up the baton of Greta Thunberg who has become the icon that communicates the reality of climate change more effectively than a hundred graphs and tables. Armed with the factual knowledge of the Green Schools, it is to these inspirational leaders that the rest of society must now turn. The time for tinkering around the edges with excuses about efficiency or identifying ‘low hanging fruit’ on the basis of economic cost benefit curves is now over. The problem is now an ethical one of intergenerational equity, one where scientists can no longer be labelled ‘alarmists’ but rather ‘realists’. In an emergency the unthinkable has to be considered and Ireland is now at a crossroads where the next decade will determine what legacy we leave to the next generation. It’s an awesome responsibility. Are we up for it or not?

Professor John Sweeney is Ireland’s foremost climatologists and was a  lecturer at Maynooth University’s Geography Department for 40 years until his recent retirement. Over the past 30 years he has published approximately 60 scientific papers and edited and co-authored texts on various aspects of climatology and climate change in Ireland.


Statement from BirdWatch Ireland, Thurs Feb 28th 2019:

BirdWatch Ireland wishes to remind the public, local authorities and contractors that hedge-cutting is NOT permitted between 1st March and 31st August inclusive, except in the case of any of the derogations permitted under the Wildlife Act 1976, as amended. The Heritage Act 2018 gives the Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht the power to make certain changes to these dates, but it is important to note that, as yet, the Minister has not done so. As a result, the usual dates when hedge-cutting is prohibited currently remain unchanged.

It is an offence to 'cut, grub, burn or otherwise destroy hedgerows on uncultivated land during the nesting season from 1 March to 31 August, subject to certain exceptions'. For more information, click here.  To read the Heritage Bill 2016, as passed by Dáil Éireann on July 5th 2018, click here.  To read the Heritage Act 2018, click here.

To contact your local wildlife ranger, click here for contact details. To read the Wildlife (Amendment) Act 2000, click here.

Caring For Wild Animals

Please note that many species of mammals, birds, invertebrates etc... are protected under law and that, even with the best of intentions, only someone holding a relevant licence from the National Parks & Wildlife Service should attempt the care of these animals.  For full details, please click here to read the NPWS Checklist of protected & rare species in Ireland.  If you are concerned about a wild animal, please contact your local wildlife ranger - click here for details.


Please DO NOT send any live, dead or skeletal remains of any creature whatsoever to Mooney Goes Wild.  If you find an injured animal or bird, please contact the National Parks & Wildlife Service on 1890 20 20 21, or BirdWatch Ireland, on 01 281-9878, or visit



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Presenter: Derek Mooney

Series Producer: Ana Leddy

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