Mystery whale off St. Johns Pt./Minerstown area Aug. 11th 2018?

6th Sep 2018

IWDG has been following up on a rather intriguing sighting of a large mammal which is presumed to be a whale species that was both observed and photogrphed by Chris Rankin from St. John's Point, Co. Down at 08:00am on Saturday 11th August.  If you were in this area at this time, you may be able to help us establish which species it was?

The details are as best as we can establish from Chris are  ...

" When I first spotted it I was facing towards the southern tip of the Isle of Man (standing on St John's Point looking SE)  the second time I saw it about 60 seconds later or so I was facing more S to SW as it was heading closer to Minesrtown.  It is very hard to estimate size but I would roughly estimate 5-6 meters ( but The bit visible in the image maybe 3m).  I saw it twice - both times it seemed to be its back - but I could not see any dorsal fin. This was dispite the species being very close. When I first saw it just its back was visible - the size was obvious. It then disappeared and soon reappeared about 300- 400m further along the coast and closer to Minerstown. I didn't observe a visible blow at all - but was looking through the camera so may have missed this"

There are a few interesting pieces of information in this, as the length estimate would pretty much enable us eliminate any seal species or small toothed whales such as porpoises or dolphins (both animals that Chris is familiar with).  So we are left with this most likely being a whale species.  The next most interesting observation is that it was initially seen at close range, within 100 mts and Chris is satisfied that it had no dorsal fin. There are really only two possible inshore whale species recorded in Irish waters that don't have a dorsal fin, they are the northern right whale and the bowhead whale.  The former is on the brink of biological extinction, while Bowheads sightings do seem to be on the increase at our latitudes and Ireland had it's 1st ever confirmed bowhead whale sighting only 23 miles away at the mouth of Carlingford Lough on 29th May 2016 and a 2nd probable Bowhead whale on 17th April 2017 in West Cork.

The image clearly shows an anmal that has produced a rather substantial wake and appears to have a large head, followed by a dip where the neck is and then a large rotund body. Unfortunately , the animal was swimming at the time the image was taken away from him towards Minerstown, and so we do not have a clear profile image of this whale. Clearly, we have a mystery and we can't say with much confidence which species this is, but if you were in the area on the morning of Sat. 11th Aug. 2018 either on land or boat, it's possible that you may have encountered this animal and taken some images or video. If you have, then IWDG would really appreciate your contacting us, so we can follow up on this potentially important sighting record.

Huge thanks to Chris Rankin for passing on this interesting sighting to IWDG

By Pádraig Whooley, IWDG Sightings Officer

Ph. 353 (0)86 3850568 or e: Sightings@iwdg.ie