Rare killer whale attack witnessed off Cork coast

A killer whale chases common dolphins off the coast of west Cork earlier this week. Pic: David Edwards / West Cork Charters

A killer whale attacking a group of dolphins was witnessed by a charter boat operator off the coast of west Cork in what experts say is a very rare event in Irish waters.

Charter boat operator David Edwards was about 15 miles south of Galley Head in West Cork when he witnessed the astonishing event and managed to take a picture of the ocean's largest predator in action as it bore down on a group of common dolphins.

David who operates West Cork Charters based in Timoleague near Clonakilty described the chase he witnessed on Tuesday, May 21, at around 6pm.

“I thought it was a killer whale,” he said, “but it's so rare to see them I wasn't sure at first. Then I saw it was chasing the dolphins and I was just amazed.

"I think there were three killer whales in total but it's so hard to tell with all that action going on...It happens so fast. There were dolphins swimming away in front of them as well, not too far ahead.”

Sightings officer with the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group (IWDG) Padraig Whooley has examined David's photo and he is convinced it shows a killer whale attacking the group of dolphins.

“There are at least three common dolphins visible in the picture and the whale is only two or three metres behind them. It's very likely this a predation event, by the height of the dorsal fin it can only be a killer whale,” he said.

“Killer whales are the apex predator in the ocean and to see this in Irish waters is very rare.”

Killer whales are native to Irish waters but sightings are uncommon with between four and 10 of them around the entire coast in a year. Sightings of killer whales attacking large prey are virtually unknown.

“We often wonder why we don't see these animals engaging in predatory behaviour like this so this is a really special sighting,” added Mr Whooley.

West Cork has become a mecca for whale watchers in recent years with sightings of several species including humpback whales a common occurrence along the coast.

As part of biodiversity week, the IWDG will be hosting a free whale-watching event at Cloghna Head near Rosscarbery, West Cork, very close to where these killer whales were spotted. The event takes place from 6pm on Saturday, May 25.

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