Fin Whales Join the Mix in Kerry

11th Aug 2011 IWDG members chartered Mick Sheeran's "Blasket Princess" for the day on Tuesday 9 Aug in an attemt to track down the now elusive humpback whales in Dingle Bay. It was a team effort where the local whale-watch gurus coordinated an impressive effort to track down whales. The forecast was for a brief weather window.

Nick Massett had his boat on the water and ready for action at the crack of dawn while 20 IWDG members made the journey to Ventry for the trip. As 'Míol Mór' powered out of the bay 'Blasket Princess' carried a small RIB so that Nick Massett, Joanne O'Brien and Britta Wilkins could land on Inis Mhic Aoibhleáin. With special permission to land there from Conor Haughey, the trio armed with spotting scopes hiked up to the top of the island. They were by then the most westerly people in Europe, with an amazing view of mind-boggling expanse of ocean.

Before long, Paddy Roche called the first blows as we headed south from Foze Rocks towards the Sceiligs. We altered course to follow these blows to our west but we failed to see them again as they probably moved offshore. The low and bushy blows may well have been from the humpbacks that have been observed in the area over the past month.

The land-based watchers put us on to a fin whale about 10 miles south of the Blaskets, west of Valentia Island. We attempted to photo ID and biopsy this large fin whale but couldn't get close enough for a successful biopsy. We did pick up some sloughed skin that was floating in the water - more than enough for genetic analysis. We were treated to hundreds of common dolphins and at least 11 minke whales throughout the day.

Later on, a few of us continued the search in the RIB and found two more fin whales further south, about 4 miles northwest of Sceilig Mhichíl. Both were biopsied with single close apporaches, with no discernable reactions. We were treated to great views of bait balls being annihilated by common dolphins, sooty shearwaters and minke whales.

What we observed was spectacular activity in an area which appeared to be devoid of life (despite thorough searching there in ideal sea conditions) just the week before. This is the first time fin whales have been photographed, photo IDed or biopsied in inshore waters of Co. Kerry by IWDG. This acitivity could easily have been seen from the Iveragh Peninsula, where there seems to be a shortage of sightings despite there being fantastic vantage points (Dolus Head, Bray Head, Bolus Head) for effort watches.

Our productive day of fieldwork was a credit to Nick Massett (IWDG), Mick Sheeran & Britta Wilkins (Blasket Islands Eco Marine Tours) whose longterm efforts are really paying dividends. Our knowledge of the cetacean diversity, abundance and seasonality in the area is constantly improving thanks to their dedication. Thanks to Conor Haughey for giving us permission to land at Inis Mhic Aoibhleáin.

Conor Ryan (IWDG/GMIT)

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