Report on 2nd IWDG Weekend Course 25-27 July28th Jul 2008 The sun shone on Cape Clear Island, West Cork for the 2nd of the three IWDG weekend Whale- Watching summer courses, which was attended by 21 participants, who travelled from as far afield as the UK and Donegal. As always the weekend was a mix of indoor presentations covering a range of related topics, three land-based watches and a boat trip. The course was delivered by Pádraig Whooley, IWDG Sightings Co-ordinator.
Over the three days sightings were recorded on each of the 3 land-based watches from Bullig and Blannan. The 1st optional watch on Friday afternoon produced 15-20 common dolphins in moderate sea conditions. The Sat. morning watch in excellent calm conditions produced a much larger group of c100 common dolphins which were picked up initially by Andrew Malcolm and Ann Trimble. These were supplemented by a small group of 5-6 bottlenose dolphins very close to the cliffs and towards the end of the watch most participants were rewarded with stunning views of a very large Ocean Sunfish Mola mola, which we estimated was > 1 metre length.
The boat trip on the MV Spirit of the Isles on Saturday afternoon was a surprisingly quiet affair, as with good numbers of dolphins about, there was a reasonable expectation that we'd pick up at least one or two minke whales during the transect around Cape Clear and between the islands in Roaringwater Bay. Alas, the trip produced several harbour porpoise encounters, but little else. Such are the vagaries of whale watching even in West Cork!
There was however an unexpected finding during this trip as Josie Lyons & Paula Hynes of the Marine Institute found a phyto-plankton species in a plankton haul, which on further microscopic examination was positively identified as Dinophysis acuta a species which can impact negatively on shell fish production.
Sunday morning saw another early start at 09:00am at Blannan, and this was our last chance to pick up a minke whale, but again they failed to show, but the 30 minute hike to the viewing point was rewarded by close up views of another group of c25 common dolphins travelling east across south harbour. Again, we had spotting scopes on hand and managed to show most participants fantastic close up views of this charismatic pelagic species. One very unusual sighting towards the end of this watch was of an otter Lutra lutra foraging about 1 KM offshore.
Most participants left Cape on the 13:00 ferry back to Baltimore, during which there were 3 more harbour porpoise sightings of c5 animals and another otter was seen along the shore on the north end of Sherkin Island.
In summary we had about 10 encounters, of 3 cetacean species (harbour porpoise, common & bottlenose dolphin) which were supplemented by sightings of several grey seals, sunfish and otter. These combined with the lovely summer weather, stunning landscapes and pleasant company made this, our 23rd weekend course on Cape Clear since 2001, another great success. These courses are important both in terms of promoting biological recording of cetaceans in Irish waters and raising a greater awareness of our marine mammal fauna, while at the same way being an important source of revenue for the IWDG.
A huge thanks as always to Andrew Malcolm & Ann Trimble for their assistance and expert spotting skills and good humour over the weekend. I know being dragged from your Waterford clifftop perch at Ram Head can't be easy, especially when you're waiting for those fin whales to appear!