Superb run of sightings off Blasket Islands...Update

13th May 2009 Report II: Update 13/05/09, 11:45am

We learned this morning from our colleague Joanne O' Brien, (GMIT & IWDG) who was talking to Eddie Moore a local boat operator who has assisted with deployment of acoustic T-pods in the past, and Eddie reported seeing a pod of Risso's dolphins yesterday around the Blasket Sound area. This sighting can now be confirmed. As I write Nick Massett is observing a pod of c20 Risso's dolphins passing through Blasket Sound.This brings yesterday's species tally to the Slea Head/Blaskets area to six species (seven if we confirm the humpback), comprising: Harbour porpoise, common, bottlenose and Risso's dolphins, minke and basking shark. This must surely be something of a "diversity record" for inshore waters at this time of year....which remember is "low season"!

(Photo above is one of a pod of nine Risso's photographed on 28th May 2008 in Blasket Sound)

Report I: 12/05/09

Mick Sheeran of Blasket Island Eco Marine Adventure Tours had a big day on the MV Blasket Princess during a charter around the Blasket Islands, Co. Kerry. At around 15:00, while following a small group of common dolphins, some of his clients observed what appeared to be a breaching whale, and some time later Mick himself saw a tail-fluke lift out of the water. He is confident this was indeed a humpback whale and has experience of this species.

We are awaiting further details before we can validate this record, but the details as forwarded to us, do suggest strongly that this is the 1st humpback whale record of this year's whale season. (Photo to left is not the whale in question). The 1st confirmed humpback of the 2008 season was on 17th May off Malin Head, Co. Donegal, so although this is an early record, the timing doesn't particularily stand out as being unusual.

However, at this time of year, with the inshore arrival of large numbers of basking sharks, we need to be cautious. In recent years basking sharks have been seen breaching by several observers, and at a distance this can look like a breaching whale. This dramatic increase in basking shark sightings at this time of year has also coincided with an increase in reports of "breaching whales", which is curious, as this is still well short of the late autumn/early winter peak in large whale sightings. So be aware of the scope for confusion.

A useful tip, is to count the breaches, as sharks are more likely to only breach once, and then they'll disappear from view for a long time. Whereas a whale may breach many times in rapid succession, and is likely to surface for air within minutes of breaching.

Also seen during the trip were a basking shark off Trá Ban, Great Blasket, as well as bottlenose dolphins. On hearing of this news we contacted local IWDG "effort" watcher, Nick Masset who headed up to Slea and Clogher Head to scope for the humpback in hazy viewing condition, and although he couldn't find it, he did record several harbour porpoises and a minke whale. This is an incredible six species tally (including basking shark) on one day in inshore waters, and goes to show how good the whale watching potential can be, despite its still being very much "low-season" for us whale enthusiasts.

Thanks to Mick Sheeran for passing his sighting on to IWDG's Mick O' Connell; and to Nick Massett for taking the time to head up to Slea Head. For further information on Mick's trips around the stunning Blasket Islands, Co. Kerry and beyond Ph. 086 3353805 or email:

Pádraig Whooley


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