Sandeels attract humpbacks and more to West Kerry

21st Apr 2016

Humpback fluking with common dolphins 17th April, Nick MassettOn April 9th Ciaran Cronin reported a humpback whale off Bray Head, Valentia Island, Co. Kerry. This was an early Kerry humpback sighting, but wasn’t without precedent. In recent years humpbacks have been seen in April, but these tended to be isolated events, involving single animals observed once or twice. It is the consistency of these increasingly early and regular humpback sightings during Spring in West Kerry that is remarkable. As we now have 8 separate humpback sightings over 6 days since Ciaran’s initial sighting on April 9th. They have been observed lunge feeding on the baitballs in conjunction with common dolphins; using their long pectoral fins to great effect, they corral the sandeel and then turn and lunge with an impressive turn of speed into the shoals.

Research trips carried out by local IWDG members in the rib Míol Mór have resulted in photo id of 4 animals (Image left, fluke ID shot obtained by Nick Massett 17th April 2016) and a fifth was documented by Mick Sheerans Blasket Eco tour boat. Of these five animals 3 are inter-annual re-sightings from 2015, and two are new animals. Last year was un-precedented for humpback sightings in Ireland, the catalogue doubled during that period, and it is great to be seeing some of these ‘new’ animals returning to our shores so early in the season. The two previously unrecorded animals just add to the catalogue and what appears to be an influx of humpbacks to Irish waters.Fin whale surfacing 16th April, Dingle Bay, Dave O' Connor, Wolfhound Tours

 

The driver for this West Kerry activity seems to be the proliferation of lesser sandeel and not surprisingly, alongside the humpbacks we are recording large numbers of common dolphins, minke whales and the feeding opportunity has not gone un-detected by larger rorquals, with a single fin whale confirmed on both 16th (Image Dave O’Connor, Wolfhound Tours) and 17th April.  Since IWDG’s Large Whale Project commenced in 2003, we have never in 12 years recorded inshore fin whales during the month of April, so this current Kerry activity is making us re-think some our pre-conceived notions of “seasonality”.

Whether this trend continues, only time will tell, but the IWDG sighting scheme and the humpback whale photo id catalogue will reveal all in time. So please do report any sightings to the IWDG through the website and contribute to this important conservation work. Every year we say this, but it really is an exciting time to be researching humpbacks in our waters.

Nick Massett, West Kerry IWDG member and Padraig Whooley, IWDG Sightings Officer