Irish Weekend Sightings Summary April 16-17....UPDATE

20th Apr 2011 Report II, 20/04/11

Nick Masset's interesting picture of a breaching basking shark from Slea Head, Co. Kerry yesterday (Pic below) serves as an timely reminder that over the coming months we shouldn't assume that every large marine species leaping spectacularly out of the water is a whale. Between Mar-July there are many times more basking sharks in Irish waters, than whales and therefore while it's good practice never to rule out anything, the default setting is very much that such activity is more likely to be basking sharks.

Report I, 18/04/11

If you're reading Conor Ryan's daily reports from warmer climes in the Cape Verdes, you won't have failed to notice that he and Pedrin have been having great successes biopsying and photgraphing humpback whales off Boa Vista Island.

Now, Conor is a man of many talents, but I was somewhat confused when a sighting report by Conor Ryan landed on our system on Sunday 17th April of a basking shark from Annestown beach, Co. Waterford. Had he decided with so many biopsy samples obtained early in field-work to come home? Or perhaps he finally mastered the intricacies of bi-location. Alas, with a distance of some 2,550 miles between Sal- Rei and Annestown there was always likely to be a simpler explanation.

Yes, at the time time our own Conor Ryan was bobbing about on a 4m RIB shooting humpback whales off Boa Vista, the other Conor Ryan was photographing basking sharks off Annestown, Co. Waterford.

But it was another good weekend for Irish sightings, although with a lower diversity from last weekend. IWDG received 13 validated sightings of 5 species: Harbour porpoise, common & bottlenose dolphin and minke whale, and of course basking sharks. As we've come to expect during late spring, basking sharks were the most frequently reported species with almost 40% of sightings relating to the planet's 2nd largest fish.

We're still waiting for a more complete report but among the five shark records received, one stands apart from all others, and that was of an aggregation of 29 basking sharks off Brownstown, Co. Waterford on Sat. 16th April by Paul Walsh (Waterford Birds). While at the same time Andrew Malcolm was enjoying an early season bumper watch off Ram Head in the same county, during which he and his long suffering accomplice Anne Trimble recorded: harbour porpoise, common dolphins, minke whale and basking sharks during a single watch.

Though this may seem an impressive tally, their record species tally for a single watch at Ram Head is seven species, and it's probably not a coincidence that this is also my top tally off the Old Head of Kinsale back in 2001. Seven is definitely the number to beat, for anyone who happens to have a few years free to dedicate to sitting up on an Irish cliff top scanning the sea for blubber with optics.

Now in case your wondering where West Cork is in all this. No, we've not all retired to further careers in organic cheese making. But it does seem that this areas' star isn't shining quite as bright as it has in previous years. Crikey, it's bad enough the fin and humpback whales largely deserting us in the past two years, but dear God, now even the basking sharks are at it. To add insult to injury, we are it seems now relying on scraps from Kerry, as our most interesting observation over the weekend by Colin Barnes was of one very dead and rotting pilot whale, that washed up on Toe Head, West Cork, having drifted some 85 miles from Slea Head in just 6 days. In this case the species was confirmed by tooth socket count, ruling out any possibility of it being a Risso's dolphin.

But things are building up really nicely now from around the coast and this is a good opportunity to attach the following report from

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