Humpback & fin whales....it's all happening in Waterford

20th Oct 2008 On the basis of land-based observations by Andrew Malcolm late last week and a good weather window we decided to head east towards the Waterford coast on Friday 17th Oct for a days filming with GMTV for the next "living the Wildlife" series to be shown on RTE. The plan was to locate, film and photo-ID the fin whales which Andrew had seen the previous day and that same morning. We got a lot more than we bargained for. .

Leaving Reen pier, Union Hall with Colin Barnes on the MV Holly Jo at dawn, we surveyed east along the Cork coast, passing Galley Head, Seven Heads, Old Head of Kinsale, Roche's Point, Power Head, and Ballycotton in east Cork. During this 4 hour transect we had no less than 11 dolphin encounters of c300+ individuals. All dolphins which could be identified to species level were common dolphins.

As we left the Cork coast around Yougal heading towards Andrew's watch site at Ram Head, Ardmore, all eyes were peeled for the distant plumes hanging along the horizon which would lead us to the fin whales which Andrew had seen just a few hours earlier. However they proved illusive, and after travelling >75 miles there was justifiable concern that the fin whales had moved further east and that we'd draw a blank. But at 12:30 presenter Colin Stafford shouted that most welcolmed of four lettered words...."BLOW"!

We spent the next two hours with some lovely encounters of very approachable fin whales, often travlling in a tight group of five animals who seemed very relaxed with our presence. We immedietly recognised one of these as FWIRL30 named "Hook", who we also photographed in West Cork on 28th Sept 2008. Further analysis of the many images obtained is required to see how many individuals we've photographed well enough to establish whether these are new animals or matches of currently catalogued fin whales.


At 15:06 the importance of the day's fieldwork took on a new dimension when a tail-fluke was seen sliding gracefully back into the water. Surely this was a humpback. Film crew and whale watchers on board were alerted to the possability and within minutes we detected a low bushy blow of what we could confirm was an adult humpback whale; my first in Irish waters for a number of years.

Sighting of this endangered species in our waters have since 2004 been a rare event, and you can imagine our delight when this animal was joined by a second humpback whale. We stayed with the pair for about an hour as they travelled slowly towards a location c16.5 miles SSE Mine Head, Co. Waterford. During the interaction both individuals were well photographed and we can confirm that one is HBIRL2 (pic below), who was first documented off the Kinsale Gas Fields in Sept. 1999 and last recorded in West Cork on 29 Nov 2004. This latest sighting brings the total numbers of years this individual has been resighted over the past decade to three.


The 2nd humpback whale appears to be a new animal, previously unrecorded in Irish waters and this animal has been added to the Irish Humpback whale catalogue and given the following number HBIRL8 (photo below). Interestingly, throughout the encounter the humpbacks were always in the presence of common dolphins. Having witnessed Pacific white-sided dolphins mobbing Northern resident Killer whales in Johnstone Stait Vancouver Island many years ago, I had a similar impression that these humpbacks were al