Minke whales return to inshore waters.

16th Mar 2010 After a total absense of sighting records from all Irish inshore waters over the long winter months, minke whales return at several sites.

Our smallest baleen whale, the minke whale, is unlike its larger rorqual cousins, the humpbacks and fin whales who are more typically reported during summer and autumn months. During the last season the two busiest months for this species were September and October, with just a few sightings in November. During the winter months Dec.-Feb. IWDG did not receive a single minke sighting from any Irish waters, inshore or offshore. Where they go during winter remains a mystery as almost nothing is known about the movements of the North Atlantic's most abundant baleen whale.

Last weekend brought an abrupt end to this drought with multiple sightings from Slea Head, Co. Kerry, offshore West Cork and a fascinating record from the east coast off Wicklow Head. These records come as a bit of a surprise, as given the extreme winter we'd have expected a later than normal return. But the stretch in the days, clear skies and the long hours of sunshine may well have triggered early plankton blooms, which are also likely to attract other megafauna, such as the basking shark.

The arrival of minke whales at these sites, less than a month after the departure of humpback and fin whales from the Wexford/Waterford area, shows just how fortunate we are in Ireland that we never have to wait too long for the next "whale event" to occur. So watch this space!

Other sightings of interest over the weekend were by Francis Maye, Sligo of what was likely to be a "large whale species" off Aughris Head. Given the description of a large 10-15ft visible blow, it is unlikely that this was a minke whale; a species that Francis is familiar with. Another unusual sighting reported by Colin Barnes during an offshore angling trip in West Cork was of a common dolphin.....but this was no ordinary common dolphin, as attached to its dorsal fin was a blue tag with an aerial. IWDG are currently investigating this to try to establish where this animal may have come from, as to the best of our knowledge nobody is satellite or radio tagging common dolphins in this region. We'll keep you posted if we establish the origins of this animal.

Thanks to those of you who have continued regular effort watches and reporting casual observations over the winter. It looks like all this wonderful cold, clear and settled high pressure is drawing to an end now. Sightings may not be so easy in the weeks ahead if wind and rain return.

Wishing all IWDG members a happy St. Patrick's day.

Pádraig Whooley

IWDG Sightings Co-ordinator