Return of large whales off South and small ones off East coast.7th Jun 2011 A break in the awful weather that persisted throughout much of May 2011 gives us an opportunity to review some nice sightings in the past week.
Noteworthy among the 37 validated records is the fact that 14 sightings (38%) are of bottlenose dolphins, and for those living on the East coast many of these are of the 3 that are reported almost daily between Kilcoole, Co. Wicklow and Dalkey, Co. Dublin. It's almost a year since they first showed in the area, and I guess they'll soon have earned the "resident" tag.
I actually got to see them for the first time on 1st June on a visit home to Greystones, where they enthralled walkers strolling along the seafront, on occasion swimming energetically within 50 metres of the shore between the Cove and South beach. So I can now add bottlenose dolphin to previous sightings of harbour porpoise and Risso's dolphins from the area, taking my "not so" extensive Wicklow "blubber list" to three. The important point here however is that my Wicklow list is growing faster than my West Cork list, currently stuck on eleven! But this does likely reflect on the gap in species diversity between the Irish Sea and Celtic Sea areas.
When validating these bottlenose records, I couldn't help but notice that some of these Greystones sightings suggested there were more than the 3 animals present. Were the core group being joined by other bottlenose? The answer was provided by Bray member John Brophy who on 3rd June confirmed a group of 5-6 Risso's dolphins in the Codling bank area.
It would be great to see a return to the Wicklow area of these illusive, large and pale dolphins who were seen regularly in the area between 2003-2007, which for some reason have fallen completely off the radar in the interim years. Sightings of mixed bottlenose and Risso's groups are not uncommon, so recorders on the east coast might keep an open mind if you have such an encounter. The two species really couldn't be more different in appearance or behaviour (see bottlenose above and Risso's below).
While all the talk back in April was on the basking sharks that dominated the sightings scheme, the poor weather of May seems to have brought their season to a premature end. But in the past week we have received reports from East & West Cork and a 4th from Mc Swynes Bay, Co. Donegal. So there are likely to be plenty of sharks still about, but unless the sea calms right down again many of these will go undetected. Sightings reports over the years would indicate strongly that they peak in late May/early June in Irish inshore waters, but it's a little too early to draw a line under the 2011 basking shark season.
The other big news is the annual return of our large whales whose 3 month absense in Irish inshore waters came to an end when UK colleagues at MarineLife Surveys reported an impressive feeding aggregation of 21 fin whales in the Celtic Deep on 28th May. Ok, the Celtic Deep may by British waters, but only just! On receiving this information we speculated that it was only a matter of time before we started picking up those familiar distant blows. Sure enough 5 days later the Irish Naval Service vessel LE Orla confirmed our 1st fin whale on 2nd June, c25 miles south east of Hook Head, Co. Wexford. MarineLife Surveys also had on the same cruise the 1st humpback of the 2011 season with a single animal 43 miles south of Mizen Head on May 31st....definitely Irish waters! Unfortunately no photo ID images were secured, but the most important thing is that IWDG can report on another year of these giants returning to our prod