An example of how good land- based whale watching can be.8th Dec 2014
As it was such a beautiful day Sunday last I set off early to do a tour of Waterford headlands, starting at Helvic Head near Dungarvan and working my way west to Mine Head then on to Ram Head. I didn’t get any further than Helvic that day for as soon as I arrived at the headland and before I even set up my scope I noticed a splash of sunlight off a whale’s body 300m to the south-west. Moments later a fluke confirmed I was looking at my first humpback off the Waterford coast for many years (image below). I texted as many IWDG members that I knew of in the vicinity and eventually 7 spellbound watchers witnessed a juvenile humpback whale coming closer and closer to the cliffs. Eventually it came so close that only those lower down the slope could see it, those higher up had to do with only hearing it as it came up to breathe. At one stage it came within 5m of shore. In 10 years of whalewatching I had never experienced such a close proximity encounter. I don’t think anyone who was there on the day will ever forget the experience. The only dampener on the day for me was that my wife Ann was in Dublin and missed out on the excitement, so we decided as she had the next day off to have a look again in the hope that the whale might still be around.
As we got to the cliff top that Monday (Dec 1st) morning the first indication that there might be another extraordinary day ahead of us was when we heard a fin whale’s blow before we saw it. This whale was in a very similar position to where I’d seen the humpback the day before and, as we watched, it moved closer and closer again before lunging dramatically through the water just below us sending sprats flying through the air. This whale was feeding in 6m of water which is an extraordinary piece of behaviour for such a large animal (an adult fin whale such as this was can grow up to 22m).
Over the next 3 hours we watched this animal as it foraged for food between Dungarvan Bay and Muggorts Bay 4-5km to our west. At no stage did it venture further offshore than 500m and several times it lunge fed in water between 6-15m deep.
On Thursday 4th Dec. I made excuses for myself to venture back to this headland where I again witnessed 3 fin whales engaged in similar behaviour although they didn’t come quite so close inshore this time. The arrival of all these whales coincided with a high tide which presumably enabled them to forage so close to shore in comparative safety.
For anyone wanting to experience land based whale-watching of the highest order I would recommend, when weather permits, going to any headland between Ardmore in Waterford to Hook Head in Wexford, preferably at high tide!
By Andrew Malcolm
Editor's note....a sighting over the weekend of fin whales off the Old Head of Kinsale suggests that land based watches further west along the Cork coast may also be rewarded with sightings of large whales, although with Met Eireann's forecast of "phenomenal seas" over the coming days, perhaps best to wait a few days for the worst of the Atlantic depression to pass us by. But polar air from Arctic regions on Friday might bring good viewing conditions towards the end of the week. We'd ask anyone fortunate enough to enjoy sightings of large whales, or indeed small whales, to report them to IWDG for validation on this website. Your sightings are important for monitoring the movements of these highly mobile animals along our coast.