IWDG take advantage of whales and weather.

14th Nov 2008 Once again it was land-based reports from our network which gave us that all important steer as to where we should search for fin whales during our weeks fieldwork which we had planned to coincide with the peak in inshore sightings. Reports early in the week came from IWDG UK members Mary & John Imber who were watching from the Old Head of Kinsale, Co. Cork. Their reports suggested large numbers of fin whales were aggregating close inshore, which was excellent timing given our plans.

We planned to use this week to continue the ongoing photo-ID effort, take biopsies for genetics, and carry out acoustic monitoring. The proceedings were also filmed by Ross Bartley of Crossing the Line Films for a new series on migration. This work was funded by a Heritage Council Wildlife Grant and compliments the IWDG/GMIT PReCAST project.

All the pieces were coming together nicely. We had a small weather window on Wednesday, calm seas and good visibility. Reports by Neil Deasy from the Old Head golf course informed us the whales were still in the same area on the day, and we couldn't have had a more experienced skipper in Colin Barnes and his whale watching vessel the MV Holly Jo. So with everything in place we headed east along the West Cork coast, doing what we do best...looking for giants.

The 1st blows were seen as we approached the Old Head of Kinsale. Over the next 5 hours we estimated a minimum of 12 fin whales, but this may be conservative. This was certainly the largest inshore fin whale aggregation recorded this whale season. Among them it was great to see so many minke whales, a species which has been scarce in west cork thus far in the area. But both species were seen throughout the day in very close association. Best estimates was 10+ minkes, often photographed in the same frame as their much larger cousins.

During the 5 hours we spent surveying in the waters around the Old Head, we were continually followed by common dolphins, which we saw bow-riding fin whales on several occasions (photo above). One of these was melanistic, lacking the "hourglass" pattern normally associated with this species. Although it is difficult to estimate numbers, it is likely that there were 300-400 common dolphins observed throughout day.

It became clear before long that this would be an important day for a number of reasons. The 1st text message from Andrew Malcolm who was also filming for the 2nd series of "Living the Wildlife" with Colin Stafford-Johnson was that he had between 2-3 fin whales off Ram Head, Ardmore, Co. Waterford. About an hour later Nick Massett texted to say that he too was counting c4 fin whales blowing off Slea Head Co. Kerry. This is the 1st time that we can confirm fin whales in 3 counties (Waterford, Cork and Kerry) on the same day, and once again suggests a strong recovery of fin whales in Irish waters, and shows that the high sightings rate in West Cork merely reflects higher observer effort.

With so many fin whales about we took over 600 photo ID images and preliminary results are that we have identified 5 new animals, which takes the Irish fin whale catalogue to 53. We also obtained re-sightings of at least 2 previously catalogued fin whales #FWIRL2 (Scar) and #FWIRL34 (Bullet). Although Scar was seen