IWDG Southwest survey produces a 'killer thriller'.

30th Sep 2010 See link below to Irish Times article 30/09/10 http://www.irishtimes.com/newspaper/ireland/2010/0930/1224279988088.html


Report 1, 28/09/10

A team of surveyors from IWDG/GMIT on last weekend's offshore survey drew the whale equivalent of the lotto numbers, with a rare killer whale encounter.

September seems to be a busy month for cetacean surveys in offshore waters. On Friday evening 24th Sept. an joint IWDG/GMIT team gathered in Ventry, Co. Kerry on the basis of some long overdue high pressure settling over the southwest. This survey was one of a series of three offshore surveys funded by the Dept. Environment, Heritage and Local Government (NPWS) as part of a national cetacean monitoring programme, whose aim is to survey offshore blocks off the southwest, west coast and northwest waters. This contract was awarded to a joint bid by the IWDG in partnership with the Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology in July.

Early the following morning we joined Mick Sheeran on the MV Blasket Princess www.blasketislands.ie full of expectation…we weren't to be disappointed. In recent days Nick Massett, our man up on Slea Head, has been watching a humpback whale in Dingle Bay and our route to the start of our 1st survey track-line would take us right through the area where it had been seen the previous day. All eyes were peeled for the distinctive low bushy blow of a humpback whale. Interestingly, it is almost a year to the day since Nick photographed another humpback #HBIRL10 on 29/09/09 off Slea Head. There is now a really nice trend developing showing an inshore movement of these large whales off the Slea Head area in September. Is it a coincidence I wonder that large whales are showing a September peak off Slea Head, a November peak off West Cork and a January peak off Waterford/Wexford area? Surely not.


Alas, we failed to locate our 'big-winged New Englander', but as we steamed through Dingle bay we were counting common dolphins in their hundreds with a few minke whales among them. By early morning we had commenced our 8 mile survey track-lines. Several lines later, in a location southeast of the Skelligs (photo above) the shout went out from the primary platform…. … “killer whales”! Conor Ryan has spotted a distinctive blow followed by that unmistakable dorsal fin. Minutes later a second animal was seen in the same area, giving us a pair. Boat based sightings of killer whales in Irish waters are not common, and rare in such good conditions. So there was really only one decision to be made, and that was to stay with them long enough to secure the all-important photo ID images, which took us about 35 minutes.



On occasions one of the killer whales crossed our bow within 2m of the vessel, while another swam just beneath the surface keeping a parallel course with us, clearly showing their distinctive “tuxedo” pattern. Having witnessed them in places as exotic as British Columbia, Argentina, Chile... and Cork harbour, seeing them at such close quarters in Irish waters really helps re-invigorate one's commitment to marine conservation. Such encounters are the stuff of dreams for whale enthusiasts and researchers alike, and any residual disappointment at not locating the humpback earlier was erased by this encounter with the ocean's top predator, An Cráin Dubh. Job complete, we resumed our survey east towards West Cork.



As we've reported before, this has been a very good year for killer whale sightings in Irish waters with 14 validated records to date in 2010. Many of the individuals seen belong to a group known as the “West Coast Commu