The Muir Éireann or Irish Sea is the arm of the North Atlantic that separates Ireland from Great Britain. It’s northern limit is marked by the North Channel. St George’s Channel marks its southern boundary. 130 miles long and 150 miles wide at its broadest point the Irish Sea covers an area of 40,000 square miles and is 576 feet deep at its greatest depth at the Mull of Galloway. Its waters border the Republic of Ireland, Northern Ireland, Scotland, England, Wales, and the Isle of Man. Fans of Rev W. Awdry’s railway stories will also know the Irish Sea as the location of the fictitious Island of Sodor.
In geological terms the Irish Sea appears to have been formed by rifting in the Paleogene and Neogene periods, some 65 to 2.6 million years ago. During the height of glaciation 20,000 to 10,000 years ago the central part of the sea is likely to have been a long freshwater lake. As the ice receded the lake was reconnected to the sea, eventually becoming saline once again.
Across the Irish Sea by Matt Mooney
When the light was white from Tilley lamps
And the boat to Holyhead was overladen,
The postman was a sight for pure delight
As casually from his bag he took the letter-
A scrawl whose hand you instantly recall;
The Queen herself stamped in the corner
Above the exile’s home address, silently
Overseeing the sadness of the sons of Erin.
The sea is economically significant generating an estimated £6 billion a year and carries 12 million passengers and 17 million tonnes of cargo per annum. Major ports include Liverpool, Dublin, and Belfast. Fleetwood, Dun Laoghaire and Ardglass are major fishing ports with important catches including herring, whiting, cod and flatfish. Wind and nuclear plants provide power generation, while the East Irish Sea Basin, Carnarfon Bay, Cardigan Bay, Liverpool Bay, and Kish Bank offer considerable potential for oil and gas extraction, with 17 platforms currently active.
Rich in wildlife the Irish Sea is home to the famed Dublin Bay Prawn. Leatherback turtles visit annually as they feed on swarms of jellyfish. A dozen species of whales, dolphins and porpoises frequent the sea, the most common being the bottlenose dolphin, common dolphin, and harbour porpoise. At least thirty shark species pass through the Irish Sea, including the basking shark, the world’s second largest fish, and the mako, the world’s fastest shark which can reach speeds of up to 46 miles per hour in short bursts.
Whiting (Merlangius merlangus) is a member of the cod family (Gadidae) native to the Eastern North Atlantic and also found in the Black Sea, Aegean, and Adriatic. It spawns from January to September in the area between the British Isles and the Bay of Biscay. In the Irish sea the sex ratio sex averages 38.5% males and 61.5% females. Typically it grows to an average of 23.5 centimetres, with a rarely found maximum length of 70 centimetres. Carnivorous, whiting feed on shrimps, crabs, molluscs, small fish, polychaetes and cephalopods. A trend of decline in the whiting catch in the Irish Sea since the 1980’s indicate that the stock size is very low. In response the catch is limited to a total of 157 tonnes per year.
Research from the Defence Studies Department, King's College London
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