Fin Whale Research Trip-updated with video

15th Dec 2010 Twelve eager IWDG members left the quay in Dunmore East at dawn on a cold but calm December morning last Saturday 11 December. The aim of the trip was to take photo ID and biopsy samples of the fin whales which have been seen close inshore in the area over the past few weeks. Martin Colfer's Rebecca C was a great platform for this research.

The sighting rate grew steadily as we headed west and the animals were getting larger all the time. First we saw seals, then harbour porpoise, next came common dolphins (upwards of 100) and finally two fin whales were encountered south of Brownstown Head, Co. Waterford. Another fin whale sighting further west was logged. These whales appeared to be searching for food and were not easy to track given their zig-zag pattern of swimming.

Black=Harbour Porpoise, Yellow=Common Dolphin, Red=Fin Whale

Mist off the land threatened to ruin our chances as we headed inshore towards our third fin whale sighting. The mist kept it's distance and we were treated to an amazing encounter of two fin whales swimming very close to shore. Photo ID images were taken and one biopsy (albeit a very small one!). We moved west again towards Dungarvan where we came across three whales lunge-feeding just below the surface.

These whales were swimming in water just 15m deep. For an animal whose body length is 20m, this was a surprising discovery. It wasn't clear whether the whales were cooperating or competing for the fish that we could see near the bottom on the boat's sounder. One more biopsy was taken, a good sample. Claire Morgan of Dublin City University immediately put some of the skin into preservative for her evolutionary biology study of mammals using RNA. The samples are being used for molecular genetics and stable isotopes at GMIT and toxicological analyses of lipids will be carried out at a later stage.

Thanks to our skipper Martin Colfer and to all the members who came out for the day, it was a memorable trip. A special thanks to all the hardy IWDG headland watchers who have braved the cold in the past month to help piece together the movements of fin whales along the south coast.

to see a recent article on fin whale feeding go to

Conor Ryan

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