East Antrim comes alive

25th Jun 2006 Things have been a bit quiet around here for some time. Ok, Harbour Porpoise are still on the scene (although even these tend to head off presumably to birthing/breeding grounds through spring and early summer) but lovely as they are you can only get excited so much by them. It was getting to the point were I looked forward with a sense of impending dread to the next set of constant effort watches – another 90 minutes staring at the waves.

Fortunately the dog still needs walking first thing so, looking out the window to see if it was a T-shirt morning, I was greeted by the sight of a nicely overcast sky (no glare, important in the morning as I am on the east coast), a flat calm sea and no swell. Hitting the beach it was time to have the first scan. Quite literally the first thing I saw was a Minke Whale breaching completely clear of the water, just north of the Copeland Islands, at the mouth of Belfast Lough. Tripping over myself to get the telescope set up, the head was racing away with thoughts of what else the day might bring. The next hour yielded no more sign of the Minke, but clearly this was a good day for Harbour Porpoise with some 15 around Whitehead, including at least 5 calves. All of the porpoise were heading north wth no sign of feeding activity. Checking on the tail-end group of porpoise, the back end of a larger body showed itself briefly with an obviously larger dorsal fin but the view was fleeting. Staying on that area, the beast was down a long time finally surfacing to reveal a Bottlenose Dolphin – species number 3 for the morning. Unusually with so much cetacean activity, there was no great presence of seabirds in the area apart from 100's of Manx Shearwater flying through and the local Fulmar feeding on the remains of Whitehead's Friday night takeaways at the discharge pipe – if you know what I mean. Seems there was little in the way of small fish shoals in the area which presumably was why the porpoise were not hanging around.

Generally, if there is good activity around Whitehead, the rest of the Islandmagee coast is worth checking out. A quick drive up the coast revealed another 8 Harbour Porpoise at Portmuck, including 2 calves while The Gobbins cliffs had 2 more offshore. Portmuck also had the awesome sight of a submarine travelling on the surface on the Scottish side of the Channel, its size only becoming apparent when a local fishing boat chugged into the field of view – the sub was enormous.

And so to the afternoon with family and friends visiting all keen to at least see a porpoise. First stop was Skernaghan Point at the north end of Islandmagee, offering fantastic views across to the Maidens and the North Channel. Two hours later and with nothing better than a Grey Seal and 50 or so Sandwich Tern to show for our efforts it was decision time – a quick trip to Portmuck again or off to the local ice-cream shop. Well I was outvoted so Portmuck it was.

Sea conditions were still good but a mist was beginning to limit visibility to the south especially. An hour went by with poor and distant views of a few porpoise as reward when I picked up a largish dorsal fin some 2 - 3km out. Getting on it with the ‘scope was difficult as a bit of a swell had picked up. Finally a brief view was had of 3 long bodies logging on the surface looking pale and sporting relatively large dorsals. The brain began to process the information but before the definitive answer of Risso's Dolphin came out I noticed a large black sail on the horizon, just emerging from the mist. The brain dropped the Risso's issue and transferred full attention to this odd choice of colour for a yacht sail, particularly when the yacht began to sink. It was followed by another similar sail and magically the first one rose from the deep. The next 40 minutes was spent watching 4 Killer Whale as they moved rapidly north, some 4 – 5km offshore. The group consisted of 2 large males with enormous dorsal fins upright and st