Killer whales bring down curtain on June sightings

7th Jul 2011 IWDG received and validated 175 sighting records in June 2011, 88% of which were confirmed to 10 species, which include basking sharks. This compares with 270 sightings in June 2010 of 7 species. The 35% drop in sightings reflecting the vagaries of Irish summers.

In order of ranking, the most commonly recorded species in June 2011 were: Bottlenose dolphin (28% of all sightings), Harbour porpoise (25%), minke whale (13.6%), common dolphin (9%) basking shark (5%), Risso's dolphin (3.4%), killer whale (2.3%), fin whale (1%), humpback whale (0.6%) and pilot whale (0.6%). Clearly, with basking shark sightings evaporating from a trickle to a drip, we can draw a close to the 2011 basking shark season. This is the 2nd consecutive year that shark sightings have declined, with a 36% drop in sightings on the same period in 2010. Oh well, it was good while it lasted!

Of interest if you map all the sightings for June 2011, I think I'm correct in saying that for the first time ever you see the biggest cluster of sightings were actually off Co. Dublin. These comprise a good show of porpoise activity, assisted by the almost daily sightings of bottlenose dolphins in Killiney Bay, with the cream being a nice run of minke whales from places like Lambay, Howth and the Kish bank area. We'll get the the East coast on the Whale Watching map yet.


Among these Dublin whale sightings was a remarkable series of killer whale images sent to IWDG by Ciaran Smith, winchman on the Irish Coast Guard Helicopter. On 30th June whilst returning from a training exercise over the Irish Sea, they encountered a single adult male (bull) killer whale, c8NM SE Howth Head on the Kish Bank. They secured images from this unusual aerial perspective of this solitary apex predator. (above). It's unusual to see this species alone, and had the helicopter not being running low on fuel they may have found others. The identity of this solitary animal remains a mystery.

The following day 1st July, IWDG Mayo member Caroline Tuffy recorded her first minke whale from her local patch on Kilcummin Head, Killala Bay. Caroline has been reporting bottlenose dolphins from this area in recent years and the arrival of several minkes into the bay was it seemed just reward given her dedication to reporting casual sightings. But things were to get a whole lot more interesting...



In recent weeks Caroline had agreed to carry out systematic "effort watches" from Downpatrick Head. On 4th July, her 1st watch at this wonderful location in front of the Ceide fields looked like it might produce a blank. In poor light she was on the verge of giving up, when she heard a blow, and to her amazement within metres of the sea stack there was a killer whale. Then more blows, followed by impossibly tall dorsal fins gliding through the surface. Her report combined with that of local anglers fishing off the rocks suggest 4-6 animals. And yes one of them was our old friend John Coe #001 from the Scottish West Coast community group. In discussion with killer whale researcher, Andy Foote, we can confirm that "Comet" #005 was also present, and a 3rd animal, a female is likely to be Lulu #006. See Chart above.

John Coe was first identified over 30 years ago off the Hebrides'. His last confirmed sighting was June 10th in the North Irish Sea mid-way between the Isle of Man and Co. Down, where he was travelling in a pair. So it's interesting that the IWDG recording scheme can re-locate him three weeks later among a larger group off Co. Mayo (image below). Similar to bottlenose dolphins, killer whales, the largest member of the dolphin family, are likely to circumnavigate the British Isles. But it would seem based o