Winter Whale watching in the Northwest !

18th Nov 2014

Report update: 18/11/2014

Just a wee update on this local minke whale activity off Northwest Donegal and the activity reported initially on below shows no sign of abating. On 15th Nov. Gareth observed two minkes, but the following day his best estimate was 7-8 minkes, and yesterday 17th there were 3 animals. All the local evidence suggests that herring are driving this activity, and local fishers are saying that they can never recall herring so close to shore in this area. For anyone thinking of heading accross to view this spectacle the area around Brinlecka about half a kilometre north of Bun an Inver seems to be a hotspot.  A conversation with Gareth this morning suggests that this morning he may have observed 2 whales with a very visible blow. This suggests that perhaps other rorquals may also have found what the minkes have been feeding on since Nov. 16th. But we'll keep you posted if we are able to confirm that minkes have been joined by the likes of sei or fin whales. Interesting times for whale enthusiasts in the Northwest.

 

Report 14/11/2014

For many years now over several decades, IWDG has been trumpeting the enormous whale watching potential of the well-known hotspots along the Irish Southwest; bottlenose dolphins in the Shannon Estuary, fin whales in West Cork and humpbacks in West Kerry etc.  But what about minke whales in Northwest Donegal?

We’ve always said that an event that repeats itself over a three year period can be considered to be a trend, and on this basis we feel there is sufficient evidence now to confirm a nice trend of minke whales Balaenoptera acutorostrata moving inshore along the northwest Donegal coast in the waters between Bun an Inver and Bloody Foreland.

The 1st sighting of this activity that was detected by the IWDG sighting scheme was reported by Gareth Doherty of Selkie Sailing on 25th Nov 2012, but it was a once off and didn’t stand out as being anything out of the ordinary, as minkes whales sightings to the south in Donegal Bay during summer are a common occurrence. Then last year Gareth was back on the case and documented minkes whales in the Bloody Foreland and surrounding areas on no less than 23 days between 16th Nov 2013 and 17th January 2014. This activity peaked with double digit numbers on Nov 25th 2013 when Gareth estimated a minimum of 10 minke whales off Bloody Foreland. So we were always going to be watching the area closely for a repeat in 2014, and so far we have not been disappointed.

Minke whale off Bun an InverThe activity off Bloody Foreland resumed this year on 3rd Nov when Gareth observed a single minke whale. Ok, a single sighting could quite easily be a fluke (bad pun I know, as minkes don’t fluke). Then on 11th Nov he reported three, which was repeated every day since, with a best estimate of six minkes yesterday 13th November. Gareth’s observations suggest this local activity is being driven by the presence of large numbers of herring which are also attracting plenty of gannets. One big question IWDG would love to investigate is whether these are the same individuals, or some of the same animals, returning to this area year after year.

Let’s hope that this activity develops and it will be most interesting to see if the we can document this occurrence for a third year over the coming months. This activity which is very close to the shore, often within 200mts, represents a marvellous opportunity for whale watchers, wildlife enthusiasts and researchers alike in the Northwest and Ulster area to observe Ireland’s smallest baleen whale and in good numbers. Suggested labd based viewing points would be: Bun an Inver, Brinlack Pt., Inishirrer, Bloody Foreland, Curransport and Magheroarty.  Although, Gareth will monitor this activity over the coming months, we’d ask any observers who travel to the area and see these minke whales to report them online to IWDG on www.iwdg.ie for validation. It is far better to receive duplicate records (which can be merged) than to miss important sightings.

This all bodes well for the establishment of the IWDG’s first formal regional group in the Northwest which will be headed up by Gareth Doherty, whom many of you will recall from his involvement in this summer’s mass stranding of pilot whales in Falcarragh. More on this to follow.

Pádraig Whooley

IWDG Sightings Officer