The Irish Whale and Dolphin Group (IWDG) has confirmed the first new species of whale in Irish waters in 25 years.

The Arctic bowhead was spotted in the mouth of Carlingford Harbour, Co Louth, more than 3,000km south of its natural habitat, just after midday on Sunday by the crew of a boat from Carlingford Lough Pilots.

IWDG sightings officer Padraig Whooley said they used images and video from the crew to confirm the species as a bowhead whale through the shape of its rostrum — its extremely arched jawline and white chin — and its lack of a dorsal fin.

This Arctic vagrant was estimated to be around 6m long, and is most likely a juvenile. It could also be the same mammal which was observed hugging the shoreline off Cornwall on May 15. A bowhead was also recorded off the Scilly Islands in February 2015.

“IWDG is confident in confirming this new species for Ireland, bringing our species tally now to 25 species of whales, dolphins and porpoise [cetaceans],” said Mr Whooley.

Arctic species are known to undergo “eruptions” — when they move out of their normal range — and there have been sightings of walrus in Irish waters. A beluga was spotted off the northern coast last year, just the third sighting of this species in Irish waters, and in April a narwhal was washed up in Belgium, the first record of this species there. Mr Whooley said these eruptions could be coincidences or a sign of disruption in the Arctic ecosystem.

The IWDG vessel, Celtic Mist, has been diverted to Carlingford to locate the whale.

There have been dolphin, whale, and basking shark sightings off the southern coast in recent days, with a large pod of dolphins spotted near Inchydoney, while Minke and humpback whales and basking sharks have been seen off Cape Clear and Baltimore.


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