IWDG exploratory Fin whale cruise success

28th Jan 2007 During two days at sea in the waters off Ardmore and Youghal we had nine Fin whale encounters of upwards of 7-8 animals. Several of whom were photo-identified.

Day 1: 25th Jan 07

Despite the lively sea, it took Skipper Colin Barnes just four hours to motor across from Reen Pier, Union Hall in West Cork to Youghal, East Cork. Leaving at 06:00am he arrived in Youghal at 10:00am. In fairness this was exactly as he had predicted.

Meanwhile, while I was driving across to meet him I took a detour at Ballymacoda, East Cork for a quick scan off Knockadoon Head and immedietly saw the familiar vapour plumes of at least two fin whales Balaenoptera physalus as they surfaced and blew quite close inshore. This was indeed a good omen, as it meant we wouldn't have to waste too much time, or diesel, looking for these whales once we had collected the volunteers and were back on the water.

Leaving Youghal at 10:45 with a boat full of IWDG members, we saw our 1st fin whale within 45 minutes blowing not far south of Capel Island, Nr. Youghal. This was to be the 1st of three fin whale encounters during the day. Despite the near perfect conditions, only this, the 1st of our encounters was to provide any useful images for photo ID purposes, but for several people on board it represented their 1st sighting of a large whale species in Irish waters…a poignant moment.

During the day we made a long transect west towards Power Head just east of Cork Harbour, as Colin had observed three fin whales in a tight group at dawn, while heading across, but we failed to find them. By early afternoon we had returned towards Capel Island and found another two fin whales. Interestingly, all encounters were of single animals and no common dolphins were observed during the day. There was also very little sign of feeding seabirds.

As the afternoon drew on, the seas got calmer and by 15:30 the MV Holly Jo was motoring in truly idyllic flat calm conditions with a lovely winter sun. Alas, things at sea rarely remain perfect for long and we developed a minor engine problem, which forced us to call off the day's field-work an hour prematurely. Alas, we could still consider the day a success, with fin whales confirmed in the area, counted and where possible photo-identified, and all on board were well pleased.

Day II: 26th Jan 07

We got a lucky break and managed to get the tiny pipe “braised” which was causing our oil leak, and by 9:45 were steaming out of the Blackwater river system with a fresh compliment of IWDG members, who had volunteered to join us. We keep saying it……. “ if you want to become involved, learn more, and get to take part in the fun stuff, then you really should consider becoming an IWDG member”

Today was just one of those amazing days, and although the sea wasn't as calm as the previous day, the whales were more numerous and obliging. Almost within minutes of clearing the harbour the first shout of “BLOW” went out from Conor Ryan, IWDG Cobh, and not long after that it became clear that we had several groups of fin whales in a wide arc some 3-4 miles off Capel Island area. Several of us saw one individual which appeared to tail-fluke and this was a possible humpback whale, although we can't be certain. What a start to the day. The omens were looking good.

During the day we had four close-up encounters with fin whales, and we estimated that we observed at least 7-8 individuals, four of which were well photographed. It remains to be seen how many of these individuals are suitable for photo-ID. By that we mean how many of the images show the mostly naturally occurring patter

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