Humpbacks now among West Cork fin whales...Update

25th Nov 2008 Large whale Report update 25th Nov 2008

No real change to report. The same high levels of activity have been reported SE of Galley Head area and off Seven Heads by both land and boat based observations. HBIRL3 "Boomerang" was observed today travelling with fin whales.


Large whale Report update 24th Nov 2008

Just back from a meeting in Galway and a quick glance at email shows that there was fin whale activity today 24th from multiple locations along the Irish South coast ranging from Baginbun, Hook Head, Co. Wexford, to Tramore, Co. Waterford, west to Power Head near Cork harbour and once again in their usual haunt SE of Galley Head in West Cork. So it is again likely that what we are reporting in West Cork is the tip of the iceberg .

This stunning aerial photo above was taken by Willy Barr of the Air Corps Maritime Aircraft Casa 252 at 14.30 on 21/11/08 off Galley Head west Cork and illustrates beautifully the fin whale's slender profile


Report 22nd Nov 2008

Expecting more fin whales on another trip out with Colin Barnes on Sat. 22nd Nov. we ventured out on the MV Holly Jo in moderate sea conditions... and got a lot more than we bargained for.

Before too long we picked up the distant columnar blows offshore Galley Head and in no time we were in among fin whales which have if anything been building in numbers in the area over the past week.

All the time obtaining photo-ID images of well- marked animals.

At 13:45 we were about 7 miles SSW of Seven Heads heading towards an area where we felt the concentration of fin whale activity was greatest, when up ahead of us I saw a whale with what looked like a large white scar on or near its dorsal fin. On re-surfacing it was clear that this was a humpback, but not any humpback; this was our best known annual returnee HBIRL3 "Boomerang", whom has been documented three times so far in 2008. His last sighting being on July 13th off Ardmore Head, Co. Waterford. A good view of his "flopped over", white pigmented dorsal fin and pale lateral scars on this right tail fluke (pic below) were sufficient to confirm its identity.


By 14:30 were were offshore of Clonakilty Bay and at one point cut the engine close to a very large "fish mark" and our min. estimate was that the Holly Jo was surrounded by c10 fin whales, several of whom were re-sightings of catalogued animals from Nov. 2004. Conservative estimates were that we encountered 15-20 fin whales in total throughout the day, along with several minke whales, which were often seen feeding on the periphery of the fin whale activity. Estimating fin whales however from a boat can come with certain health warning, and the best perspective for counting these highly mobile whales is likely to have been from a headland.

Slowly heading back west in slackening winds which made it easier to detect the distant blows, Colin headed towards a blow which just didn't quite match the profile of a fin whale's tall blow. With patience we scanned from the Holly Jo's primary watch platform and within minutes were rewarded with our 2nd humpback whale of the day. This was a much smaller animal than Boomerang and most likely a juvenile, no larger than a medium sized minke.

Initial feelings were that it could have been HBIRL7, also a juvenile, which was tracked on a round trip in 2007 between the North Sea to West Cork and back. We watched this young animal as it lunge fed actively through bait ball after bait ball. We'd have to wait for it to stop f