Killer Thriller off Galley Head, West Cork...UPDATE

20th Dec 2009 Report II, 20/12/09.

All the reports arriving at IWDG from local sea watchers are suggesting strongly that the large whale activity is now centred on the east side of Seven Heads, in Courtmacsherry Bay area of West Cork. Certainly watches in the past few days off Galley Head and Ardfield area have failed to produce any obvious sightings of fin or humpbacks. This morning, 20th Dec, local birder Pete Wolsenholme reported several fin/humpback whales just off the Coolum Cliffs area of Courtmacsherry bay; their " blows" clearly visible without optics. We hope to be able to confirm that humpbacks are present by close of day, but most observers are consistently describing "blows" that are low & bushy in profile, suggesting that as with last winter, both species are present.

We plan on doing a whale trip out with West Cork Whale Watch operator Colin Barnes tomorrow Mon. 21st and there are as I write just a few places available for an early 10:00am start. If interested, you should call Colin immediately on 086-3273226, as this should be a fantastic opportunity to see winter whale watching at its best in Irish waters. And even the weather gods are smiling. Watch this space.

Report I, 17/12/09.

There is a build up of whale activity in West Cork, as favourable northerlies take hold, with some recent sightings of large whales and evidence that there may at least be some humpback activity among them. But Galley Head produced a lot more than we bargained for this morning.

Following from a short watch on Wed afternoon from Dunnycove, Ardfield, at least two large whales were seen within 2-3 km of shore in Clonakilty Bay area. Neither could be confirmed to species level, so anxious to put this right I headed back to my vantage point at the Ardfield Signal tower. The hazy conditions were far from ideal for scoping but panning to my west off Galley Head, I detected some rather puzzling "blows" which were too large to belong to dolphins and not quite tall enough to belong to either fin or humpback whale.

In order to get a closer look, I drove across to Galley Head and focussed my watch effort on an area of concentrated commercial fishing activity. Within minutes the 1st awesome black dorsal fin carved through the water, followed by two more. Yes, killer whales.

It's been about six years since I've seen killer whales in Irish waters, and boy but it was well worth the wait. At relatively close range of 2-3kms the easily recognizable dorsal fin of KWIRL 2 known in the Scottish Hebridean Islands as #001 or “John Coe” was apparent. This bull has now been well documented in Irish waters in recent years, but is the 2nd sighting of John Coe in Irish waters in 2009, as he was also seen on 5th July 09 in Galway Bay.

I watched them for about 80 minutes as they seemed to spend a lot of time loitering due south of Galley within clear view of the lighthouse. They then headed east and as I started to struggle to follow them with my scope, I picked up a 2nd much larger group of 5 killer whales about 1km to their west. Travelling in a classic killer whale line formation, with at least another 3 adult males (bulls) and two smaller animals which in hindsight were likely to be adult females. This group were travelling eastwards very fast and were further offshore, but still produced stunning sightings for another 45 minutes, and obliged by staying in view long enough for William Helps to see his first killers.

We later established from Edward Helps that there were 7-10 bottlenose dolphins in Dirk Cove, and one can only wonder whether they were seeking refuge from this apex predator which passed with a few kilometers of the mouth of the cove as they passed Galley Head. Meanwhile over to our w