Warm water anchovies and sprat are tempting pods of dolphins, fin whales and seabirds close to the south coast this week, with feeding frenzies reported in outer Cork harbour.
An estimated 50 to 60 dolphins have been sighted by several eyewitnesses off Myrtleville and Fountainstown and Roche’s Point over the past week.
The marine mammals have been joined by kayakers who have filmed them flipping and jumping as they tuck into the “bait balls”.
“We’ve never seen dolphins in such large numbers before at this time of year,” Donal Kissane of Myrtleville said.
“They are particularly close at high tide, and it has been wonderful to watch,” he added.
Carrigaline resident Derek McGreevy photographed the pods from outer Cork harbour, and said he estimated there were 50 to 60 common dolphins at times, with gannets competing for the fish.
The shoals of tiny fish are also drawing in fin whales off the south-east coast, with almost daily sightings of the second largest creature on the planet, according to Padraig Whooley of the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group (IWDG).
The abundance of anchovies – a warm water species with higher value now, used in pizza toppings and pasta dishes – has been described as “astonishing” by Dr Kevin Flannery of Dingles’s Mara Beo aquarium.
Small numbers of anchovies have been identified in Irish waters before, with the first record being off Ventry, Co Kerry, in 1870.
The fish also appeared off west Cork last January.
“We thought of them as vagrants, whereas this past week has seen astonishing numbers,” Dr Flannery said.
The Marine Institute said that it was aware of anchovies appearing in these waters in small quantities since 2003, and has identified them as part of its periodic groundfish surveys.
Mr Whooley said that the IWDG has received sighting reports of marine mammals from Kinsale to Roche’s Point to Myrtleville and up the river Suir estuary.
“It’s not unusual for this time of year, but it is still wonderful that people can see them so close to the coast, and from their houses in Dunmore East,” he said.
At least 1,000 tonnes of anchovies landed into Dingle last week were sent to fish meal, as there are no markets for anchovies in Ireland.
The IWDG has criticised this, stating that there is “no excuse for removing the base of our inshore food chains”, which could have long term catastrophic impacts on entire ecosystems.
Minister for Marine Charlie McConalogue is currently appealing a recent High Court judicial review which overturned a ban on trawling by vessels over 18 metres inside the six nautical mile zone and the baselines from January 1.
Two fishermen from Munster had successfully challenged the Sea Fishing Boat Licensing Policy, Policy Directive 1 of 2009, published by Mr McConalogue’s predecessor as minister, Michael Creed, on March 5, 2019.