Return of the Fins

26th Jul 2001 Fin whales (Balaenoptera physalus) reaching lengths of 80ft are second only in size to the blue whale. Dwarfing the minke our most abundant baleen whale, fin whales are neither as rare nor as hard to see as you might think. Their powerful 20ft vapour plumes standing out on the horizon on those clear, calm days.

In the past three years fin whales have been observed passing along Cork's headlands from June onwards and reports of this species to the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group "sighting scheme" are beginning to reveal interesting trends.

The summer's first sighting was by the Air Corp who took aerial photos of two adults and a calf south of the Kinsale gas fields on 4th June. Regular sightings of varying group sizes have been reported into August, with the summer's biggest aggregation of between 16-20 fin whales off Dunworley Head reported on July 26th by Dick Coombes.

This is not just a summer diversion off the continental shelf, as tantalizingly close winter observations of fin and sei whales are made when they follow the herring inshore.

As word of our whale watching potential filters out, more people are watching and this increased observer effort is producing some amazing sightings, but highlights the need for better coverage in areas along the east and north- west coasts.

In the meantime, however, our 'eye's in the skies', the personnel of the Irish Air Corps have also tracked down three fin whales. The Air Corps and the IWDG have been working together for some years now, thanks to the hard work of Shay Fennelly.

Last year the IWDG supplied a camera to the Air Corps which enables them to take colour shots of any cetaceans they encounter while on patrol. These shots were taken on the 4th of June in ideal conditions 50miles south of the Kinsale gas fields.They show a mother, calf and one other adult swimming through the unusually tranquil waters off the south-west coast. In the coming week we hope to track down some more fin whales in the area and we'll bring you the details of our expedition as they come in.