Sightings of whales underway

If you see people on clifftops along the south and west coasts, with cameras, long lenses and binoculars from now until the early autumn, you can take it they’re almost certainly on the lookout for some of the biggest creatures found in the sea, writes Donal Hickey
Sightings of whales underway

Whales, basking sharks and relatively common dolphins can all be seen and people are now travelling specifically to the West Cork, Kerry, Clare and Galway coastlines specifically to view these giant creatures close-up.

The Irish Whale and Dolphin Group (IWDG) recorded its first humpback whale of the 2016 large whale season, on April 9, at Valentia Island. This sighting was of an adult that surfaced among large numbers of gannets and newly-arrived manx shearwaters within 150 yards of the cliffs at Bray Head.

Two days later, two humpbacks were spotted off Slea Head, close to the Blasket Island of Inis na mBró. Other sightings were reported from West Cork, including the Rosscarbery Bay area.

Over the past six years, most inshore sightings of the first humpbacks of the season have been from mid-March to mid-May and upwards of 60 have been photographed, so far.

The IWDG’s Pádraig Whooley says any whale that looks significantly larger than a minke whale (30ft-45ft range), with a consistent, powerful bushy blow, and lifting its broad, tail flukes clear out of water prior to a dive, is most likely to be a humpback. The IWDG would like to hear of sightings, or look at any images for matching purposes.

If 2016 is anything like the last three years, then the best places to see this magnificent species between now and September are likely to be Kerry, or West Cork.

Humpback whales create a massive splash when they leap from the water. Powerful swimmers, they use their huge tail fin, known as a fluke, to drive themselves along. They’re known for their distinct and complex singing sounds, like howls, or cries, which travel long distances through the sea.

Five basking sharks were tagged earlier this month off Kilkee, Co Clare, while up to 20 basking sharks were reported feeding in a 3km area off the cliffs south of Kilkee. Another was observed off Slea Head. Other sightings were reported from West Cork, including the Rosscarbery Bay area. It seems basking sharks are now widespread along the southwest, the IWDG concludes.

The second largest fish in the world after the whale shark, the basking shark is seen here in the late spring/early summer, from Mizen Head to Malin Head, sometimes just metres from the shore as it comes in to feed. Its cavernous mouth just hoovers up plankton as it moves slowly and it’s usually seen when its fins break the water’s surface.


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