Large whale season kicks into gear along south coast.

22nd Sep 2009 The 2009/10 fin & humpback whale season seems to have commenced with fin whale sighting reports from several inshore Cork locations and humpback whales confirmed off Slea Head, Co. Kerry.

It may come as no surprise to Irish whale enthusiasts that the end of summer generally heralds the arrival of large whales, namely fin and humpback whales along the Irish South coast. This year is no different, and in the past week the slow trickle of large whale sightings has become a steady stream. The distribution of these sightings shows an inshore movement, as regularly watched sites begin to produce evidence of distant blows along the horizon.

We need no reminder that 2009 was the 3rd consecutive poor summer which likely kept a lid on sightings of large whales since June. For instance in July we only received only one report of a fin whale along the South coast, and August was almost as bad with just four sightings. Three of these were of fin whales between the Old Head of Kinsale and the Kinsale Gas Fields in West Cork but with a suggestion of humpback whale activity off Slea Head, Co. Kerry.

September arrived and there was still little sign of an inshore movement until mid-way through the month. Those of you who use this site to track and interrogate sightings reports will no doubt have noticed that in the past week there have been almost daily sightings (in suitable weather) from known Cork hotspots such as Power Head (Nr. Roche's Pt/Cork hbr area, see photo above from Lt. Cdr. Cathal Power, Naval Service vessel L.E. Ciara), Old Head of Kinsale and more recently with Colin Barnes sightings of two fin whales off Galley Head on 20/09/09 during a whale watching trip, in which he confirmed that one of these individuals was FWIRL2 known as “Scar”.

In the meantime Nick Massett who has invested a lot of watch effort on the Slea Head Peninsula can confirm that their mystery “large whales” which they've seen since late August are indeed humpback whales. This ID was the likely outcome as the blows were consistently described as “low and bushy”, but last weekend 19/09/09 Nick's perseverance was rewarded with a tail-fluke which lifted clear of the water, confirming that the 1st humpback of the season goes to the Kingdom… along with the Sam Maguire (Cup).

So the data suggests strongly that increased numbers of large whales, mostly fin whales, are arriving inshore, and a certain number of these will be viewable from suitable watch sites along the Irish South coast. The rule of thumb is that those very large whales with a large 6-9m vertical plume or “blow” , but which show no flukes are likely to be fin whales, whereas as somewhat smaller but stockier whales with a more bushy blow, that lift their tail-flukes will be humpbacks.

IWDG will continue our Photo ID research in the coming season to build on the existing large whale catalogues which commenced in 2003. As the season begins, these comprise 62 recognisable fin whales and 10 humpback whales. It will be interesting to see how these numbers increase in the coming months and how many re-sightings of returning whales we can document. These catalogues are available online on http://www.iwdg.ie/iscope/sightings/photoID.asp?id=89 where a drop-down menu takes you to nine species for which we have catalogues.

If in the coming months you are out on a whale watching trip in Waterford, Cork or Kerry and are fortunate enough to have an encounter with either fin or humpback whales, we'd love an opportunity to view any hi res copies of reasonable quality images for matching purposes, which can be emailed to padraig.whooley@iwdg.ie . Fin whales should be photographed “side-on”, with a suite of images from the right side (if possible) from the head area down to and includ