Ireland's 1st International Humpback Whale Match

30th Oct 2007 A young humpback whale Megaptera novaeangliae was observed on 28th Sept. 2007 off Co. Cork, Ireland. The same humpback whale was observed off the Netherlands in early May 2007 making this the first time the movement of a humpback whale has been tracked within European waters.


Pádraig Whooley, Sightings Co-ordinator of the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group (IWDG) said… “We are delighted; we started working on humpback whales in Irish waters in 1999 and this is by far our greatest breakthrough to date”.

Wouter Jan Strietman of the North Sea Foundation..... “Imagine our surprise and delight when we saw images of the whale on the IWDG website. It is exciting to know that the young humpback whale visited Dutch North Sea waters in May of this year has been seen alive and well, over 1,200 km away. Furthermore, the trans-boundary travels of this humpback whale show the importance of a collective European responsibility in achieving a healthy marine environment in all of our seas”

On 28th Sept. 2007 the humpback whale was observed and photographed by Conor Ryan, IWDG off Toe Head, County Cork, Southwest Ireland, during a whale-watching trip with Colin Barnes of West Cork Marine Tours. The whale was estimated at between 5 and 6m in length, making this a very young whale. During the encounter a series of digital images were obtained so that the individual could be recognized by distinctive markings.

Humpback whale, West Cork, Ireland 28/09/07 © Conor Ryan, IWDG

The IWDG maintains a catalogue of individually recognizable humpback and fin whales observed in all Irish waters, and images of this humpback whale were placed on the IWDG website www.iwdg.ie.

On 22 October the IWDG received an e-mail from Wouter Jan Strietman of the North Sea Foundation in the Netherlands, informing us that he had seen the images of the humpback whale on the IWDG website and were confident that it was the same individual observed between in the Wadden Sea area between Den Helder and Texel Island, Netherlands from 10th-13th May 2007.

A number of images of the humpback's head, back, dorsal fin and tailstock were compared, which confirmed without doubt that it was indeed the same whale. Images were also forwarded to Allied Whale, the marine mammal lab of the College of the Atlantic in the USA, who curate the North Atlantic Humpback Whale Catalogue (NAHWC). They and colleagues confirmed the match and also informed us that this whale has not been recorded anywhere else in the North Atlantic.

Can you make the match by comparing the barnacle scars on the lower left jaws?



Over the 138 days between the two sightings the whale traveled a minimum distance of 1,158 km, if it moved south through the English channel along the Irish south coast. Interestingly, although the distance involved is considerable, both locations are within 160 km of the same latitude.

Significance of match

Humpback whales have been extensively studied in the North Atlantic but this is the first time the migration of a humpback whale has been tracked within European waters.

Humpback whales were hunted extensively throughout the North Atlantic, on their breeding grounds and on migration through European waters since the 1700s. Only 12 were killed from whaling stations in County Mayo off NW Ireland between 1908 and 1920, which reflects the fact that the population was already severely depleted. Humpback whales were given full protection from commercial whaling in the North Atlantic in 1955. In the last two decades there has been an increase in the number of sightings of humpback whales throughout European waters, re