Sperm whales sighted by Irish Air Corp on 23/02/07

26th Feb 2007 IWDG have been contacted by the Colum Lawlor of the Air Corp Maritime Squadron to report a pod of nine Sperm whales (Physeter macrocephalus), on 23 Feb 2007 at 11:44. The location was 54˚ 30.15 N and 12˚ 30.48 W, c101 miles west of the Mullet Peninsula in our deep shelf waters off the north-west. The observation took place during a routine offshore reconnaissance flight and superb images were secured of these, the largest of the toothed whale species.

Not surprisingly they were observed resting on the surface, a behaviour known as “logging”. Interestingly, they spent upwards of an hour on the surface and one of the images shows a whale defecating, which suggests the pod may have been resting after a prolonged feeding period. It is known that Sperm whales feed on both giant deep-water squid and a variety of fish species.

The waters in which the encounter was made were at the 3,000m contour, which is consistent with the depths preferred by this deep-diving species. These images were taken at an altitude of 800ft with a 70-200mm Nikon lens, while travelled at a speed of 150 knots. Although, we know from stranding records that Irish offshore waters provide suitable habitat for this species, we only receive infrequent, reliable records of sperm whales each year, which reflects their preference for our deep offshore waters.

The timing of this report from the Irish Air Corp Maritime Squadron is fortuitous, as in the past week, IWDG have received funding from the Heritage Council Wildlife Grants, in support of the IWDG Whale Log Project; an ongoing collaboration between the IWDG and the Irish Air Corp. It is planned that IWDG will enter a “Service Level Agreement” with the Air Corp, which will enable IWDG personnel to join a monthly flight in offshore waters, where little cetacean monitoring of any kind is undertaken.

The IWDG wish to thank the Irish Air Corp, Maritime Unit, Casa 252 flight crew, and specifically Colum Lawlor for reporting the details of this wonderful encounter.

Pádraig Whooley

IWDG Sightings Co-ordinator

Post-script...... Go to European News section for the following sperm whale, article, which makes interesting reading given this sighting.

......"Sperm Whales return to the Mediterranean"

Italian scientists have discovered large numbers of sperm whales travelling past the south coast of Scicily

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