Killer whale, John Coe returns to Irish Southwest

1st Jul 2016

Report II, 30/06/2016

Map courtesy IWDGThere has been a huge amount of interest in this killer whale sighting record in recent days, with a huge reach on social media. At time of writing almost 114,000 have read this story via the IWDG Facebook page; this has no doubt been driven by the really strong images secured on the day. We do find it interesting however that only a few weeks ago on May 29th, IWDG confirmed a new whale species for Ireland, the Arctic bowhead whale, and this vastly more significant story slipped by with hardly any media interest. It's a shame that there can it seems be no story today without compelling images. IWDG is far more interested in the value of the biological recording effort that goes into making these discoveries, and it is important to acknowledge the individual recorders and observers who regularly and routinely volunteer their time up on the cliffs and out on the water recording and reporting diligently what they see. As in this instance, without their efforts, there is no story.

We thought that with interest so high in the John Coe story, it would be interesting to map each of the 13 validated Irish sightings of this individual over the past 12 years since 2004 (map above). Each dot represents a sighting of some or all of the Scottish West Coast Community group of killer whales, in which John Coe was confirmed. It makes for interesting viewing and it seems that he and his clan may like the Irish West Coast almost as much as the Scottish West Coast.

There have been no further re-sightings of this individual since Monday, which is to be expected given the current poor weather and the distances this species can cover each day. We've only heard in the past 24hrs that John Coe was confirmed off the Hebrides about 11 days before this Kerry sighting. But IWDG would really appreciate hearing from you, if you feel you've seen this animal or indeed any species of cetacean. Your sightings can be reported on www.iwdg.ie by clicking on the "Report a Sighting" icon on the homepage. Thanks as always for your support.

Map courtesy IWDG

 

Report 1, 27th June 2016

You always know it's something special when you've missed a few phone calls from West Kerry. They've enjoyed yet another stunning early season of sightings since April 9th in the waters off the Slea Head Peninsula, with as many as 8 humpback whales recorded on a single day in mid May, and quite a few days with double digit numbers of minke whales. So there was really only one thing today that could merit a flurry of phone calls from this hotspot. Killer whales.

Working on a tip off, Nick Massett headed up to Slea head this afternoon, (Monday 27th June) and without optics, was quite soon watching the marine's top apex predator, the killer whale, Orcinus orca. But this was no ordinary killer whale, this was W01 'John Coe', of the Scottish West Coast Community Group. This individual is quite easily recognised by the large notch on the base of the trailing edge of his dorsal fin, a feature which makes him unique and easily recognisable. John Coe is perhaps one of the best known killer whales in the British Isles, having been first photographed by Peter Evans, SeaWatch Foundation, 33 years ago, off the Scottish Hebrides back in 1983. He was of adult age even back then, and as with many members of this aging remnant sub-pod of 8 adults, he is old by any standards. Today there are grave concerns for the future survival of this pod whose territory extends into Irish waters. One major concern is that it is  many years since there has been any new additions to this group, and zero recruitment means that this group will ultimately die off; something which would be a great loss to our marine biodiversity.

IWDG first confirmed John Coe in Irish waters on the 10th Sept 2004 off Rathlin O' Beirne Island, Co. Donegal and subsequent re-sightings over the past 12 years include:

  • 4 May 2009 off Annagh Head, Co. Mayo
  • 5 July 2009 South Galway Bay
  • 17 December 2009 Galley Head, Co. Cork
  • 10 June 2011, North Channel, Co. Down
  • 4 July 2011 Downpatrick Head, Co. Mayo
  • 5 Aug 2011 Carrigans, Co. Donegal
  • 6 Feb 2012 Arranmore, Co. Donegal
  • 1 June 2012 Rathlin Island, Co. Antrim
  • 6 June Fanad Head, Co. Donegal
  • 19 July 2012 Blasket Islands, Co. Kerry
  • 27 July 2013, Inskeas, Co. Mayo
  • Today 27th June Slea Head, Co. Kerry

These validated sightings by IWDG are a useful monitoring tool as they give us a measure as to how W01 and the group to whom he belongs use Irish waters when they are not foraging in their core habitat of the Scottish Western Isles. After a 3 year absence, it's good to know that John Coe is alive and swimming strongly. But we note that he was alone today, which isn't usual as in almost all previous cases, he has travelled with at least one other pod member, usually a female known as Nicola W03.

We'll keep you posted if there are any other re-sightings of John Coe in the coming days.  As always IWDG extend a huge thanks to the observers and photographers for sharing your experience and these great images of this most iconic species.  In particular we'd like to acknowledge our local recorder Nick Massett and Dave O' Connor/ Wolfhound Tours and Richard Creagh/Blasket Island Marine Tours for these images from Slea and Clogher Head, Co. Kerry today.

By Pádraig Whooley

IWDG Sightings Officer