IWDG to launch Trail of the Whale Campaign

24th Oct 2016

The seas around the Irish southwest coast, from Counties Cork, Kerry, Clare and Galway, have enjoyed unprecedented sightings of humpback whales this spring, summer and autumn.  It has been over 15 years since the IWDG started documenting the annual arrival of humpbacks into coastal Irish waters, but in the last two years their numbers have increased considerably.  During the period March to October 2016 the IWDG has received 117 humpback whale sighting records, compared to 113 for the same period in 2015, but only 51 records in 2014, 32 records in 2013 and 42 records in 2012. If we go back 5 years to 2011, we validated 17 sightings records. What is driving this 10 fold increase in humpback sightings in such a relatively short period?

IWDG intend launching a new campaign early in 2017 to try and record more humpbacks in Irish waters and to engage Ireland's Citizen Scientists, that's you, to help us establish what is keeping them here for months at a time. It must be food but which prey species? Where are they coming from when they arrive, and where are they going to when they leave? How do they use Irish waters when they are here; do they remain in the same area or forage widely?  It is essential that we understand this iconic species, if we want to protect them and conserve their habitats.

Humpback whale bubble-netting off Co Kerry © Nick Massett

IWDG will be attempting to photograph more whales to increase the number we recognise and see if the same whales are returning and how long they stay. The Irish Humpback Whale Photo ID Catalogue as of October contains images of  77 recognisable individuals, most of which are identifiable from their unique tail fluke profiles and enable us to match them with Norway and Iceland to the north, the Netherlands to the east and now Gibralter to the south.  The continued whaling activity in Iceland is an increasing concern if they are hunting populations of whales they share with Ireland. They are not hunting humpbacks at the moment, but there is evidence that minke whales which they do kill each year travel to Ireland and most likely fin whales too.  

 

Screen grab from IWDG Humpback Whale Photo-id Catalogue on Google Drive

IWDG will use their vessel Celtic Mist to try and find and document humpback whales in Ireland. We would also like to sail to Iceland on Celtic Mist to promote the link between these two island nations through the whales we share.

Celtic Mist sailing into Fenit, Co Kerry after 25th Anniversary Sanctuary Cruise

Celtic Mist is well able to sail to Iceland to take this message to the people of Iceland but would need a successful fundraising campaign to make this dream a Reality.  In the meantime IWDG and Celtic Mist together with a range of partners including whalewatching vessels and mariners will continue to build an understanding of these magnificent whales and to share these experience with IWDG members and the public.

Humpback whale fluke shot © Nick Massett

We hope you enjoyed the documentary The Humpback Whales of Cape Verde recently broadcast on TG4. IWDG will continue to visit west Africa and work with local researchers and communities to try and locate the breeding grounds of humpback whales feeding during the summer in Ireland.

If you are interested in taking part in this campaign please send an expression of interest to enquiries@iwdg.ie.

Remember only IWDG members can sail on Celtic Mist so join IWDG and get involved.

 

Dr Simon Berrow

IWDG Chief Science Officer