A leading marine biologist says a whale app could help boost tourism by allowing visitors to track giant humpbacks along the Wild Atlantic Way.
One hundred and nine humpback whales have been officially recorded in Irish waters – and many return to our coast annually.
With numbers of the majestic creatures increasing yearly in Ireland, the Chief Science Officer with the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group, Dr Simon Berrow says Ireland’s status as one of the best whale-watching spots in Europe is still largely an untapped resource.
The marine biologist is featured in the documentary,which airs on RTÉ tonight.
The research expedition helped to establish that Iceland and Ireland share humpback whale populations as one of the humpbacks photographed on the trip had previously been identified in Irish waters.
Dr Berrow said the number of catalogued humpback whales identified by their tail flukes in Ireland is currently at 109.
“It’s 109 now. We increased it quite a lot last year. There were a lot of new whales. It’s brilliant. We are certainly one of the best whale-watching locations in Europe.
“Usually, February and March were the quietest months but now we have sightings March through to January, but they generally peak in the autumn.
“But for the last five years, they are arriving earlier, everything is arriving earlier, whether that is climate change or population expansion, who knows?
“We’ve had our first sightings already this year off Waterford in March. They will be here in big numbers.
“The same animals are seen year in year out and they are here for weeks if not months.
Their numbers are increasing but we have to make sure we don't disturb them and operators approach them right so we protect them."
Clare-based filmmaker Tony Whelan accompanied the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group on the RV Celtic Mist on their recent expedition documenting the expedition’s passage from Ireland to Iceland for the RTÉ documentary.
After returning from Iceland, the marine biologist said Ireland could learn from the thriving whale-watching industry in the Northern European country.
"It's to encourage people to come to Ireland to see our magnificent wild Atlantic wildlife, and it's not just whales, it's seals, sea birds, it's dolphins."
The IWDG has established after years of research that the Humpback whales in Ireland also go to Cape Verde in West Africa, which are breeding grounds, and also up to Iceland, where they feed.
“We share a whale population with Iceland, one of the whales on the expedition was matched to Ireland and one was matched to Guadeloupe.”
There is a theory that juvenile whales tend to come to Ireland while the more mature whales feed in Iceland but Dr. Berrow said they need to get funding to measure the whales who come to Ireland to confirm this hypothesis.
“You need to invest in research to answer these questions. We need to know these things if you want to have an informed opinion to manage these things properly.”
He said the marine charity believes a Whale App could boost whale-watching tourism which brings in significant revenue to countries like Scotland and Iceland.
“There's no reason why it couldn't be a much, much bigger part of the Irish attraction.
“Obviously, the Wild Atlantic Way has been hugely successful and I can’t imagine that people who want to drive the Wild Atlantic Way wouldn't want to go and see the wild Atlantic wildlife.
“But it has to be promoted, you have to make it accessible, you have to work with the operators to make sure that they are providing quality products.
“One thing we had put to Failte Ireland was an idea was a Whale App so when you’re coming through Rosslare or Dublin you download this app on your phone, and it links to things like the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group website and bird watching and seal sanctuaries and everybody's website.
“It gives you a live feed of recent sightings. It makes it easy for people. We have a fantastic opportunity here. We can have a reset on tourism.
"Maybe now is the opportunity to build a really good quality marine tourism product."