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Coastal, Recreational

The Cetaceans of West Cork

It’s peak cetacean watching season down in west Cork – whale watching guide and zoologist Nic Slocum says fin whales, minke whales, common and bottlenose dolphins, and harbour porpoises have all been spotted during boat trips over the past ten days. Slocum lists some of his favourite encounters on his blog:

Our first confirmed inshore sightings of Fin Whales. Three animals around five miles south of The Stag Rocks. Showing no evidence of feeding these greyhounds of the sea were travelling at some speed with their huge columnar blows visible long after our first encounter as they travelled east.
Some lovely Minke Whale activity southwest of The Mizen Head. Up to three animals feeding amidst Gannets, Manx Shearwaters, Kittiwakes and assorted gulls. One very large animal got our hearts pumping as we, for one fleeting moment, thought we had a Fin Whale amongst the action. With The Sheep’s Head and Beara Peninsular as a backdrop these have been some of the more memorable Minke Whales sightings so far this year.
We continue to have some stunning encounters with Harbour Porpoises. These diminutive toothed whales, considered shy and retiring, have enchanted our visitors by swimming around the boat and creating much bird activity above boistrous feeding bouts.
Several encounters with Common Dolphins from Cape Clear to The Galley Head in varying group sizes. Some with very young animals in the group, others mainly adults and sub adults. Around 120 animals encountered in Baltimore Bay recently with 45/50 animals in one discrete group in Rosscarbery Bay only yesterday and generating much interest from a large flock of Gannets.

When I interviewed the Irish Whale & Dolphin Group’s Padraig Whooley a few years back, he described west Cork as a “mecca for whalewatching”.

I’m currently planning a whalewatching excursion to west Cork for November – I vividly remember a similar trip three years during which our boat was surrounded by a small pod of common dolphins that rode the bow for about half an hour. See my (poorly shot) video below.

Two further trips I planned in the last few years were cancelled by poor weather, but hopefully November’s will work out. I’m particularly keen to see some fin whales (Balaenoptera physalus), which were absent on my first outing (as were all whale species). Fins can be spotted in Irish waters from June or July each year through to the spring, when they migrate offshore. They tend to reach a peak in numbers and activity in the winter months, so I’m hoping my trip will be fruitful and I can report back for Irish Marine Life. Despite being the second largest animal on the planet, little is known about where the Celtic Sea fin whale population goes each spring, and why.

Both Nic Slocum and Colin Barnes run cetacean watching trips from west Cork.

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