Harbour porpoises: a week highlight

13th Feb 2016

There will always for some very obvious reasons be a bias towards reporting of the larger whale species such as the fin and humpback whales along the Irish South and Southwest, as these tend to attract more public and media attention, and indeed we've almost certainly also been guilty of giving the bigger blubber species more column inches on this platform. So it makes a nice change to be able to report that without any doubt this week's cetacean highlight has been an extraordinary series of reports by Matthew Byrne of harbour porpoise activity off Clogher Head, Co. Louth, between 8-10th Feb. This activity culminated on Tues. 9th Feb with an aggregation of 100+ harbour porpoises. Matt writes....." On the Tuesday the water was teeming with them and they were foraging from close in to several hundred yards out. While I tried a count, it proved very difficult. My best estimate was approx. 100+."  (See image left)

I recall a watch off the Old Head of Kinsale around 2000/2001 when Mick O' Connell and myself attempted to countValidated sightings to IWDG 6-13th Feb 2016 porpoises that were present in such numbers, that counting them was quite difficult, but we ended up with a best estimate of 70-80 individuals...give or take!  So an aggregation such as those off Clogher head this week, while not without precedent, is still an extremely rare event, and it would be very interesting to know what was attracting our smallest whale in such numbers to this area of the Irish Sea. By Thurs. 11th there were none to be seen! Event over.

Is it a coincidence that 24 km down the road in Gormanstown, Co. Meath there was a reported whale, tail slapping just off the beach on 11th Feb.  There were really no details available that could help us confirm which species this was, but perhaps it was seen or photographed by others, and if so, it would be nice to hear from you. A late season record by Andrew Malcolm of at least one fin whale off Ram Head, Ardmore, Co. Waterford (see sightings map) on Wed 10th confirms that we still have a few large whales hanging on....at this late stage, you'd have to assume that these individuals will likely spend the remainder of the winter in our waters, making an annual winter migration unlikely.

As always, we extend a huge thanks to all of you for reporting your sightings to IWDG. Please do try out the new reporting forms on www.iwdg.ie and let us know if you encounter any issues with it and the new Google mapping function.

Pádraig Whooley

Irish Whale and Dolphin Group
Sightings Officer