Having a whale of a time

Having a whale of a time

This bank holiday weekend, many people will be out on coastal headlands, hoping to catch a glimpse of whales, dolphins, porpoises, and other ocean residents.

Ireland is fast-developing an international reputation as a premium place to view these creatures.

Last month, the Irish Whale Dolphin Group (IWDG) recorded hundreds of sightings around the coast, including four humpback whales at Roches Point, in Cork Harbour, on July 28. Some 250 common dolphins were seen at Seven Heads, West Cork, and more than 100 off the Blaskets, Co Kerry.

Killer whales were spotted off Kilkee, Co Clare, and a basking shark in Dursey Sound, Co Cork. That’s a rich variety of marine mammal life.

Celtic Mist — a yacht once owned by former taoiseach Charlie Haughey, and now a research vessel for the IWDG — has been recording marine mammals all around Ireland, this summer.

Scientists and enthusiasts relish being crew members and are the envy of those who have to watch from the shore, though several commercial marine and ecotourism boats are now operating.

Pauline Kauppila, a Finnish translator and Coast Guard volunteer, who has lived on the Beara Peninsula for the past 18 years, was on board for the leg from Crosshaven, Co Cork, to Dingle, Co Kerry.

With skipper Paul O’Neill at the helm, they left Crosshaven in warm sunshine, on a Monday morning, and arrived in Dingle the following Saturday, having enjoyed the spectacular coastline.

Sightings of common dolphins and porpoises were recorded on their first afternoon, before they glided into Castletownshend and dropped anchor for the night.

In her diary on the IWDG website, Pauline noted this part of the journey gave them the first chance to switch off the engine and rely on sails, which she described as a magical experience.

They also met other whale-watching boats and were soon sailing around the Fastnet lighthouse.

On Wednesday, they saw minke whales and a few Risso’s dolphins, before making it to Castletownbere for the night. On Friday, after they passed Blackball Head tower and beyond Dursey, visibility became poor and they could not see the Bull Rock in thick fog and drizzle.

But the weather again changed, for the better. “Luckily, by the time we got to the Skelligs, the weather had completely cleared and we could enjoy these spectacular islands in all their otherworldly glory, with only puffins, gannets, and other seabirds for company,” wrote Pauline.

“I have rarely felt as fortunate as I did while our beautiful boat sailed slowly right by this unique and mystical place. The memory of that will stay with me forever.”

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