Feature: West Cork humpback whale encounter

27th Aug 2002 On foot of Tim Feen's sighting of a fin whale blowing inshore from his Ardfield farm in West Cork on Sat. 24th August, Padraig Whooley & Simon Berrow joined Colin Barnes on Sunday 25th on his whale watching boat from Castletownshend to see if the whales could be photographed. We were to be in for a special treat.

During the morning trip we had a spectacular common dolphin encounter with a feeding frenzy of c75-100 dolphins, among which were many juveniles. But this paled in comparison when a whale was seen off our port side. As we steamed towards the whale, its bushy blow and absence of an obvious dorsal fin revealed that it was in fact a humpback whale. Moments later it became clear there were in fact 2 of them.

During the hour- long encounter the humpbacks whales, which are inquisitive in nature, often approached to within 30m of our catamaran, from which we hopefully took some useful fluke shots for ID. Although we'll have to wait to get the images developed, we are confident that one of the pair was in the area this time last year.

The highlight was when a humpback hung as if in suspended animation a few feet beneath the surface, meters from the boat; its massive frame and outstretched 12-15ft white pectoral fins clearly visible in West Cork's clear blue water. Moments later it rose slowly to the surface, exhaling right next to us, filling our nostrils with its fishy breathÂ… A moment we will never forget.

We hope this is the start of an excellent whale- watching season along the south coast. In recent years IWDG observers have documented a steady increase in fin and humpback whale encounters from late summer, peaking in November/December. Recommended headlands from which to observe this wonderful wildlife are the Old Head of Kinsale, Sevens head, Galley Hd and Toe Hd.

Not that the humpback encounter could be topped or anything, but in the afternoon pelagic we encountered common dolphins on at least 4 more occasions (c150+) a single minke whale, plenty of Hbr porpoise and a leatherback turtle. A typical days whale watching in West Cork producing 4 cetacean species and 1 marine reptile, while further east a pod of 10 bottlenose dolphins were seen at Bullen Bay, Old Head and at the time of writing there are still dolphins outside Kinsale Harbour on 26th August.

You have been advised, don't miss this action. For those interested in boat-based encounters Colin Barnes can be contacted at 086-3273226 and will be available for whale watching trips from 9th September onwards.

Padraig Whooley