Wet Weekend Course on Cape Clear

4th Jun 2007 Faced with driving southerly winds, persistent rain and zero visibility, the 1st of the IWDG's summer weekend courses was always going to be a challenge.

The rain arrived early Friday afternoon, just as we stepped onto the Naoimh Ciaran Ferry at Baltimore and was never far away for the next two days. We had no sightings during the 40 minute passage out to Cape Clear Island. With the poor conditions we axed the now traditional Friday afternoon watch from the cliffs at Bullig, and met up in our new lecture room at Cotter's pub for registration, introductions and the 1st of the weekend series of illustrated presentations.


Sat. Morning…. Due to the poor weather outlook, we saw no point in having the traditional early morning start with the lecture on Species identification, so met at 09:00 am instead, giving participants a rare sleep-in. With no improvement during the morning, an additional lecture covering “strandings” was given and in early afternoon we opted to head up to Blannan to stretch the legs. Alas, the sea remained hidden from view, as it was shrouded in thick fog. Wet and cold, but not defeated, we returned to the pub for sustenance.

Resigned to the fact that Saturday was going to be a wash out, course participants enjoyed the other facets of life on Cape, and some retreated to their beds while others to the pub. In the evening after a hearty meal in Ciaran Danny Mikes, we headed back down to the lecture room for the last presentation of the weekend on whale watching around the world's hotspots. All the time heartened by Met Eireann's predictions that the weather front would pass during the early ours of Sunday morning and that it would be a fine day.

Participants had been warned that Sunday morning would be an early start, as we had a lot of field-work to catch up on, and thankfully Met Eireann were spot on. We opened our windows to clear, bright blue skies and light winds, and we met up at 08:00 am and walked up to the cliff-tops at Bullig in high spirits, for our 1st and only land-based watch of the course.

Despite the excellent viewing conditions, nothing was seen for 45 minutes and then a very large splash at the mouth of South harbour within 600-750 meters of our cliff perch. It was intriguing as others saw the breach and those that didn't saw it when it breached again some 15 minutes later and a 3rd, some 20 minutes later. Of course you always assume that these are caused by a large dolphin or minke species, but it was peculiar in as much as we never saw the animal on or near the surface, and as time went on, we became more convinced that this was a very large fish/shark species. The top contenders being either a basking shark or blue fin tuna.

We carried out a 3 hour effort watch, during which a small cetacean sp. was observed briefly right under us, and there was again much heated debate as to what this was, but I certainly wasn't prepared to call it. Then as always happens, when people start leaving, we enjoyed nice views of a large basking shark, which traveled slowly within 150 m of the cliffs as it headed west towards the mouth of South harbour. For most of those present this was their 1st encounter with the planets 2nd largest fish species. The presence of this basking shark, adding weight to the arguement that our mystery breaching animal at the mouth of south harbour was infact another basking shark.

We headed down in plenty of time to get the 13:00 ferry back to Baltimore, during which we enjoyed a really nice sighting of a small group of harbour porpoises, which included a mother and calf pair. It wasn't the most mind-blowing whale watching weekend course we've ever had on Cape Clear, but given the truly awful weather, I think we were fortunate to see as much as we did, and in such a short space of time. It was interesting to note that dolphins and whales were ab