Killer whale sightings produce a Scottish link...UPDATE

21st Jul 2009 Report Update 20/07/09

Laura Mandleberg, Sightings Officer of Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust reports that the "West Coast" community group of 5 killer whales photographed off Erris Head, Co. Mayo by the Irish Naval Service on 5th July have returned to the Isle of Skye, Scotland by 13th July. A land-based sighting of them which included "Floppy fin" between Waternish and Dunvegan, represents a journey of 250 miles covered in 8 days, an average of 31 miles travelled per day.

Report Update 08/07/09

IWDG have just received images from John O' Donnell of the 2nd group of killer whales observed on 5th July 09 at the mouth of Galway Bay between Aran Islands and Black Head, which confirm that the adult male known as "John Coe" is present in this group. This individual is well known to cover a wide range, as he was regularly observed by researchers off the Hebrides in the early 1990's, but then seemed to disappear for a number of years, raising fears that he has died. But rumours of his demise seemed unfounded when he was photographed in a 10 strong pod between Tory Isl and Malin Head, Co. Donegal in Sept 2004. He was once again photographed off the Pembroke (Wales) coast in June 2008. This latest sightings, shows he is alive and well and hasn't lost his penchant for long range travel.

Report 06/07/09

A spate of killer whale sightings along the west and northwest in recent days have produced a photo-ID match with a group known to Scottish researchers as the “West Coast Community”.

In an average year the IWDG would expect around nine validated killer whale sightings reported to the Irish Cetacean (whale and dolphin) sighting scheme, but mid-way through the year we have already received our annual quota of sightings. Whether this increase is due to a change in their distribution, an expansion of their home range or merely reflects increased observer effort remains unclear. Of the nine sightings four have come from Co. Mayo, three from Co. Cork and two from Galway Bay area. Sighting trends in Irish waters suggest that killer whales have a preference for Atlantic waters, and offshore islands such as Aranmore (Donegal), Achill Island (Mayo), Galway Bay, Blasket Islands (Kerry) and Cape Clear (Cork) do receive proportionately greater number of visits by the ocean's top predator, also known as the Orca. The arrival of three killer whales into Cork harbour in 2001, who spent the entire summer feeding in the outer harbour area near Cobh demonstrate how this species can turn up almost anywhere along our coastline.

The big difference between this latest sighting, reported by Lt. Cdr. Cathal Power, officer commanding L.É. Ciara, is that Naval Service personnel spent 90 minutes at close quarters with the group of five killer whales, and in the process secured a series of strong images which can be used for photo-identification (ID). Photo ID is a non-invasive research technique which enables matching of unique and naturally occurring features such as nicks on their impressive 5-6ft dorsal fins or scars on their pale saddle patches which are located behind their dorsal fins. By matching these scars researchers can track the movements of these highly mobile marine mammals, as they travel between coastal counties, region and country.

This latest sighting yesterday at 13:00 was made off Erris Head, Co. Mayo as the killer whales tracked east towards the Stags of Broadhaven, while at the same time John O' Donnell was with a different group of four killer whales which he observed travelling south Between