IWDG 1st Cape Clear course report

21st Jun 2010 IWDG are delighted to be able to report on a long awaited Cape Clear course which we could finally deliver in fine summer weather.


Our Cape Clear weekends in the past few years have been a bit of a struggle. Nothing to do with any shortage of marine megafauna, or with low numbers attending….just the awful weather! Of course what you are likely to see on these weekends is almost entirely an artefact of the prevailing weather conditions, and so we had no excuses for this, the first of the IWDG's summer weekend courses on Cape Clear.

The sign's were all looking good. Met Eireann were predicting the high pressure to continue, and there had been a decent flow of sighting reports of a range of species, almost all of which coming from Mícheál Cottrell of Baltimore Sea Safari, www.baltimoreseasafari.ie. In fact this weekend saw significant changes in how we run these weekends, and the first of which was our using the new Cape Clear Island ferry, the Cailín Óir. At this point I'd like to thank all her crew and management for making us feel welcome, and allowing us access to the top deck for viewing on both legs of the return trip, and for the professional way in which they managed yesterday's “incident” on the way back to Baltimore 20/06/10 …where some drunken idiot decided for a laugh to jump of the back of the ferry with a bottle of beer in his hand. I don't think he'll try this caper again in a while!

The outward trip produced our 1st sighting with a really nice run with a small-medium sized minke whale. The Cailín Óir had observed this animal previously and were very obliging in detouring so we could all spend a little time with it just east of Gascanaun Sound. For most course participants, this was their 1st ever sighting of a whale in Irish waters and a great start to the weekend….but it was soon to get much better!

Just before we approached North Harbour, I started picking up very large dorsal fins, and I was mindful of the rumours of killer whales seen the previous day (17th June) in Roaringwater Bay. As we got closer it was clear that these were Risso's dolphins, a very large, pale dolphin, only occasionally recorded in most areas. Luckily, Mícheál Cottrell was in the area with his fantastic Sea Safari RIB, and could pick us up at the pier within minutes of the ferry docking, to observe this mysterious dolphin species at close quarters. In all we estimate group size of 13-15 animals, with at least two calves present. This was another 1st for all course participants, and we'd barely arrived on the Island.


Another change to our schedule was a new venue for our weekend series of lectures, which took place in Ciaran Danny Mikes restaurant. So a huge thanks to Mary and Ciaran O' Driscoil for accommodating us. Their generosity of spirit can't be over-stated in supporting IWDG over the past decade during which we have been delivering these weekend courses out on Oilean Chleire.

I think people were so buzzed by their minke whale and Risso's dolphin sighting that I opted to leave them absorb it all, and we didn't really have time for the optional 1st watch from the cliffs after the trip out to see the Risso's. We met at 9:00 that evening for introductions and our 1st presentation, and after a pint or two most people were well content to head off to catch a night's sleep and dream of what was to lie ahead on another sun-kissed day in paradise.

Sat. 19th June, 08:00-09:15am Early start with our 2nd lecture covering species identification. Once finished we hiked up to Bullig Point for our 1st land-based watch. With seconds of walking over the brow of the hill, we were all looking at a very energetic harbour porpoise feeding just off the point. This was our 3rd cetacean species.

But despite the calm conditions, it was a relatively quiet watch with only brief cameo appearances by a small number of porpoi