Another Humpback whale for Ards Peninsula, Co. Down

15th Apr 2012 IWDG are delighted to confirm the 4th only validated humpback whale sighting record for Northern Ireland on Thurs. 12th April in Strangford Narrows, Co. Down. This is now the 3rd consecutive year that a humpback whale has been recorded in Northern Irish waters.

Interestingly, this recent humpback sighting is only c25 miles to the south of the location of the previous sighting off Bangor on 14th June 2011. On 11th July 2010 a single humpback was recorded off Rathlin Island. But there is only one other record in the previous century which was another Rathlin sighting in 2002.

So this is an important development and highlights a trend towards increased sightings of this large baleen whale species in Irish waters. As recently as the 1960's it was thought by whale biologists that humpbacks were on the verge of extinction in the North Atlantic, as a result of over exploitation by whaling nations. So this is indeed part of a larger positive conservation story as humpback whales have been protected now for several decades, and it seems likely that their numbers are on the increase.

The near land-locked location of this recent sighting is to say the least unusual, as it was seen in the fast running waters in Strangford Narrows at a point near the Seagen tidal generator that is only about 500 mts wide. The recorders, Peter Elliot and Neil Hastie who observed and filmed it at around 16:00 are confident that it was feeding on herring at the time. Although the initial report left some doubt as to its species, the brief video clip sent to IWDG on 15/04/12 leaves no doubt as to its species.

While this humpback whale may still be in the area, IWDG would request any members of the public fortunate enough to spot this animal and secure any images to forward them and indeed their sightings to IWDG, so we can attempt to match the tail-flukes with the other 20 humpbacks currently on the Irish humpback whale catalogue on see link below. It would be important for us to establish whether this is the same animal photographed off Bangor in June 2011 (below). This is often the case off the south coast where IWDG have documented inter-annual re-sightings of the same individuals over several years,

Ideally, we'd ask people to try to wait for it to lift its tail-fluke out of the water, and photograph the unique pattern on the ventral (under) surface of the tail. Any fluke shots will be forwarded to the curators of the North Atlantic Humpback Whale catalogue in Maine, USA for matching against a database of over 7,000 recognisable humpback whales in the North Atlantic.

At time of writing there are also a pair of humpback whales in West Cork waters (#HBIRL18 & 20 below) which were biopsied and photo-identified on 7th April. See 4th article on homepage. It is noteworthy that while our colleague Conor Ryan has just arrived in the Cape Verde Islands off West Africa to carry out research on humpback whales in the tropical breeding grounds, some individuals are also to be found at higher latitude feeding grounds in Irish waters.

IWDG will endeavour to keep you updated on any developments on this wonderful story.

By Pádraig Whooley

IWDG Sightings Co-ordinator

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