Incredible Minke aggregations off Irish Southwest

20th Oct 2010 The 1st report comes from regular IWDG observer Nick Massett, whose watch effort off Slea Head, Co. Kerry need no introduction to readers of this site and IWDG publications. Over a 60 minute period Nick counted no less than 8 minke whales Balaenoptera acutorostrata from a land-based watch off Slea Head. Even by Slea Head's high standards this is a very high count.

Although not perhaps an Irish record in terms of numbers, this is still an unusually large number of Ireland's smallest and most frequently observed baleen whale.

But Nick's task seemed a relatively simple one when compared to Patrick Lyne's challenge. Some 45 miles to the east off Fair Head at the entrance to Bantry Bay, Co. Cork, Patrick whose another regular observer and MMO, while carrying out a watch counted a stunning best estimate of 16 minke whales. Patrick won't mind me saying this, but he is a "cautious" observer and this estimate is likely to be conservative. There may easily have been upwards of 20+ minkes in the waters between Bere Island and Sheep Head.

IWDG can't recall such large numbers of minke whales in a relatively small area during a land-based sighting, let alone during a day's boat based survey. Both observers were using spotting scopes and other whale species such as fin and humpbacks were absent during these watches.

But this sighting from the mouth of Bantry Bay isn't quite without precedent, as at the same time last year a watch on the 4th Oct 2009 by Patrick produced another large run of minke whales with no less than 9 animals being recorded during a watch off Fair Head. Clearly there is an abundance of "whale food" getting trapped in these bay (Dingle and Bantry) that is attracting the attention of so many minke whales.

These impressive sightings from the Southwest, combined with Dave Wall's offshore humpback whale sightings from the Southeast, off Co. Wexford area, bode well for the "whale season" ahead of us. Let's hope the weather co-operates, so IWDG can continue our Photo ID efforts!

Pádraig Whooley

IWDG Sightings Co-ordinator