IWDG goes in search of the “Mother-load” with BBC

10th Nov 2011 Well it certainly seems that Irish marine megafauna and the work of the Irish Whale & Dolphin Group (IWDG) have been flavour of the month across the pond in recent times, which is testament to just how fortunate we are to enjoy such rich and diverse waters.

Back in early August IWDG received a call from BBC Researcher Jo Avery, about the possibility of filming large whales for the BBC 2 Autumnwatch Live series. This was a wonderful opportunity for IWDG to showcase what is probably some of the best whale activity south of Iceland or north of the Azores….that's a lot of Atlantic. Many phone calls and emails later, a plan was hatched.

The strategy was a high risk one, as BBC had only one shot at this story due to commitments by Welsh presenter, Iolo Williams (right). But the weather Gods were kind and with a remarkable bit of luck the two filming days chosen on 6-7th November were forecast to be absolute gems. But what of the whales?



The sightings data confirmed that the whales, as in recent years, had pushed east early in the whale season, and were largely absent from West Cork, where filming was originally planned. In fact in recent weeks there has been fin whale activity along the entire 200 mile stretch of coastline from Slea Head, Co. Kerry to Hook Head, Co. Wexford. But the most consistent sightings were from West Waterford, and so we opted to make Youghal in East Cork our base, as it offered us safe harbour, a fine filming location and was within close range of Andrew Malcolm's cliff top perch at Ram Head, Ardmore. Plus, the fact that another famous whale hunt back in 1955, namely “Moby Dick” was also filmed in Youghal with Gregory Peck wasn't lost on us.



A team of 10 BBC personnel arrived on Sat 5th November with a scary quantity of filming and editing equipment. Our chosen skipper and platform, Colin Barnes and the MV Holly Jo had motored across from West Cork earlier that morning. The weather remained glorious and on the Sunday morning before departing from Youghal we had observed both fin whales and common dolphins from Ram Head, where BBC carried out their 1st interview with local observer, Andrew Malcolm. Expectations were high.

Within 50 minutes of leaving port, with assistance from Andrew and Ann who were scoping from Ram Head, we were steaming towards our 1st fin whales which were slightly west of Youghal inside Co. Cork. They were not the easiest of encounters as the whales were diving deep, spending very little time on the surface due to the depth of the herring. But with such an experienced film crew, who'd pretty well, “been there, done that”, on the world's whale circuit, it was a relief to bag so much footage, so easily and in such sublime conditions. On top of the 2-3 fin whales there were multiple common dolphin encounters, which was important as neither species has featured previously on any BBC natural history programme filmed in the British Isles.



Day 2. Sunday 7th. The weather had broken slightly with a freshening south easterly, which gave us a sea state 2-3, but still good enough conditions for a stable platform like the Holly Jo. Joined by Simon Berrow on biopsy duty, we needed to be a tad more adventurous on day 2, and opted to head further east in search of a giant aggregation of herring we'd heard so much talk of. We named it the “mother-load”. This was where we were likely to find larger numbers o