Humpback called "Boomerang" returns to Irish South coast

24th Oct 2014

IWDG Marine Mammal Observer (MMO) William Hunt gives an account of a big whale day on the RV Celtic Explorer along the East Cork/West Waterford coast on Wed 22nd October, during which he has a memorable encounter with a humpback whale that needs no introduction to IWDG members.....

 

"Wednesday, the 22nd October finally brought some respite from the recent hammering we had been taking from the weather, with conditions improving to moderate F 3-4 SW wind all day, little to no precipitation, a steady sea state of 4-5 and overcast. And in cetacean terms, it was an absolute cracker!

Boomerang showing unique scarring on dorsal fin © William Hunt, IWDG

The Marine Institute are currently conducting north-south transects as part of their annual Celtic Sea Herring Acoustic survey aboard the RV Celtic Explorer and today we found ourselves between Capel Island, east Cork and Ram Head in west Co. Waterford. From the moment effort began this morning we were in amongst the whales, with a sighting of two fin whales in the first hour by Ciarán Cronin (NPWS) to kick things off, with a further 2 two sighted almost an hour

 later during our joint effort and it continued in the same vein for much of the day, with sightings of large whales occurring in almost every hour of effort at varying frequencies, in addition to numerous Common Dolphin sightings.  

Between 13:00-14:00 alone there were six large whale sightings, including our first encounter of the day with an old stalwart of the Celtic Sea Herring season, 'Boomerang'! Boomerang is a rather distinctively marked Humpback Whale, with a disfigured mass of white scar tissue existing where there was once a dorsal fin. This is the first time he has been sighted since his last observation in Nov 2012 in West Cork, but he has been recorded in Irish waters on nine years, since he was first photographed August 2001- hence the name: he just keeps coming back! This was my first encounter with Boomerang and I’ll admit it wasn’t until I was able to review my photos that I was certain it was a Humpback Whale: the blow I had sighted was extremely large and very vertical and my thoughts had initially jumped to a Fin Whale until I saw the broad back surface.Map of Celtic Sea Herring survey effort on 22/10/14

Excitement culminated an hour after the initial Boomerang encounter when we were graced with the presence of not one, or two, or even three large whales at once but a grand total of 10 individual animals! In a 10 minute period beginning at ~14:05 and ending around 14:15 we encountered 9 Fin Whales in two separate groups of 2, a group of 3 including a juvenile/possible calf and 2 separate individuals. These 9 were also joined by our old friend Boomerang who apparently has a habit of frequenting the company of Fin Whales. In addition to Boomerang some of our photos may have possibly identified another previously recorded visitor, Fin Whale IRL50.

This was a fantastic day for observation effort and one that will live long in the memory. After a number of rough days where effort had been confined to the wheelhouse (if it was even possible) due to a foul weather system in place it was wonderful to be dropped in the thick of it so to speak and observe these magnificent creatures lunge feeding on the plentiful sprat marks (very few herring marks present, surprisingly). Happy days indeed"

William Hunt, IWDG MMO

 

Note on HBIRL3 "Boomerang"

This remarkable humpback was first documented in West Cork by Colin Barnes who photographed it in late August 2001. In the interim 13 years Boomerang he has been confirmed by IWDG on no fewer than 9 years: 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2007, 2008, 2012 and 2014. Boomerang was the first humpback whale to be biopsied by Dr. Simon Berrow in Irish waters in Sept 2003, which confirmed his gender; he's a boy.  In fact when Phil Clapham author of over 400 publications and one of the planet's leading humpback authorities saw the images of Boomerang at the IWDG's Large Whale conference in Rosscarbery 2004, he had no doubt other than the damage to his dorsal fin had been caused on the tropical breeding grounds, when males compete for females and pick up injuries in so doing. 2008 stands out as an interesting year for this individual as it contained both his earliest known recorded sighting within a year on 10th July and his latest on the 11th December, which is significant as it illustrates just how long some individuals can remain feeding along the Irish South coast. More often than not if you find "Boomerang", fin whales will be nearby, and he seems to prefer their company and may even have an identity crises of sorts!  In more recent years it has been hard to avoid the growing importance of the Dingle Bay/Blaskets area of Kerry for this species, yet Boomerang has never been recorded outside of Co's Cork or Waterford, which suggests some individuals may have preferences and use discreet areas. Long may this iconic individual continue to grace our inshore waters.

IWDG Sightings Officer