Ireland is becoming a whale- watching hotspot, with the mammals drawing tourists from across the globe.
Irish waters are now home to fin, minke, and humpback whales for 10 months of the year — much longer than most watching seasons.
Seven fin whales —measuring twice as long as a double-decker bus — this week powered into Irish waters as part of the annual influx of the mammoth creatures.
The magnificent pod was spotted off the Old Head of Kinsale, swimming towards the Cork coast in the first major sighting of the creatures’ pilgrimage to our shores.
Irish Whale and Dolphin Group officer, Padraig Whooley, said the whales were snapped by helicopter crewman with Bond Air Services, Tomas Kelly, from 1,000ft up over the Kinsale gas fields.
“They are the second largest creatures on the planet. It’s spectacular,” said the sightings officer.
“If you go down to west Cork or west Kerry and see a fin whale or a humpback whale for some people it is life changing.
“Every year we are seeing them in new areas. We have them here from basically late May and June all the way through to the following January and February.” Around 100 of the mammals tend to be sighted off Irish waters every year but it is thought the true numbers are much higher.
“Some of these animals are not just passing through. A certain cohort of them are likely to hang around for the next six or seven months.
“And the photo identification is telling us the same individuals are returning year after year, said Mr Whooley.
Ireland has a pretty unique whale-watching season in terms of its length, he said. “You can watch fin whales off the Irish south coast for about nine or 10 months of the year.
“February to March are the only tricky months. Real professional commercial whale-watching boats are taking people out for four- or five-hour trips and finding whales. It’s really reaching an international audience.”
“The whale-watching season in South Africa. which is considered by many to be the best whale-watching in the world, lasts probably about three-and-a-half to four months.”
The long, sleek animals usually take deep dives looking for food and pop up for air every 70 seconds with whale-watchers finding the elusive animals by looking for explosions of air or “blows” on the surface of the water.
He said: “They like to feed spawning herring and sprats. When the feeding is right we have counted 30, 40, or sometimes more fin whales in an area. It does look like Irish waters do represent an important international feeding ground for these whales and it’s not just a place they come and spend a couple of days in.”
And he said there is concern about safeguarding sprat stocks for whales as there is currently no quota on the fish.