Humpback numbers building in West Cork...Update

7th Dec 2008 Large whale Report update 7 Dec 2008

Upwards of a dozen fin and at least 4 humpback whales remained in the waters off Galley head over the weekend. Let's hope that they remain in the area, although the windy forecast may limit opportunities to view them during the week. This lovely image of HBIRL9 tail-fluking was taken by IWDG member Mercin Penk on Saturday during a commercial whale watching trip with Colin Barnes.


Large whale Report update 3 Dec 2008

Another wonderful day on the water during which we recorded (visually and acoustically) everything from the tiny harbour porpoise to the massive fin whale. Between 08:30-16:30 we observed five species in the waters SSW of Galley Head, West Cork, which break down as follows Harbour porpoise (3-4), common dolphin (50-75), minke whales (4-6), humpback whales (4-5) and fin whales (c12).

During the day, photo-identification images were obtained of both fin and humpback whales. In the past few days the humpbacks have been reluctant to tail-fluke, making it difficult to match some of the less well known individuals. The North Atlantic catalogue requires the under side of the flukes as proof of ID of this species. The problem is that we have many images of a humpback's dorsal area from both left and right sides, but unless we photograpgh it tail-fluking, there is a risk of duplications on the catalogues. So as always we'll be cautious about assigning new numbers to humpbacks, unless we can match dorsal fins to tail-flukes.

For whatever reason these humpbacks appear reluctant to fluke compared to previous years, and Colin Barnes uses his understanding of fish behaviour and ecology to surmise that their prey (most probably sprats) are close to the surface, and the humpbacks therefore have no need to fluke prior to diving as they are staying close to the surface. This makes sense, as "tail- fluking" is a behaviour we typically associate with humpbacks prior to their terminal dive, which is generally a deep dive.

The fin whales show no sign of breaking up and at one point we observed a minimum of 8 fin whales close to the MV Holly Jo, so our estimates of numbers may be conservative. Two more fin whales were successfully biopsied by Dr Simon Berrow, and two local conservation rangers from NPWS were on board to observe the procedure.

So the whale watching remains superb and fingers crossed we'll have further opportunities next week to continue this fieldwork.

Pádraig Whooley

IWDG Sightings Co-ordinator



Large whale Report 2 Dec 2008

Despite poor conditions, another trip out today with Colin Barnes produced almost as many humpbacks as fin whales just SW of Galley Head. OK it wasn't pretty, but those who braved the elements were well rewarded with a remarkable encounter with two humpbacks who stayed with MV Holly Jo for at least 30 minutes.

The consensus was that during the 4.5 hours on the water we observed a min. of four and probably five humpback whales. Of these we secured photo identification images of three humpbacks and can confirm that both #HBIRL8 & 9 were re-sighted and we've hit another milestone as our catalogue has just gone into double digits as we can confirm a new animal HBIRL10 which was travelling with HBIRL8. Unfortunately no fluke shots were obtained but the images of their dorsal fin profiles and flanks were sufficient for matching purposes.