Results of IWDG's 3rd Cape Clear whale-watching weekend: Sept. 19th-21st

23rd Sep 2003 As we stood on Baltimore pier on Fri. 19th, all we could think was that the weather forecasters had got it wrong. The light wind and calm sea augured well for the whale-watching weekend ahead. All we could do was hope it lasted.

The 14:15 ferry from Baltimore produced a small group of harbour porpoise en route to Cape Clear. Most participants who made this ferry joined group leader, Pádraig Whooley, for a casual watch from Bullig, one of Cape's premier whale-watching locations.

They were not to be disappointed, as this largely novice group was treated to their 1st views of dolphins, when a group of 30+ common dolphins foraged close to the cliffs, being clearly visible without optical aids.

The first presentation of the weekend took place on Friday evening at 21:00 in the “Bunny Club”, where participants were given an introduction to “Cetaceans in Ireland” and the field skills involved in whale-watching.

Saturday kicked-off early with the 2nd lecture of the weekend at 08:30 which tackled the thorny issue of cetacean identification. An hour and a half later the group of twenty-eight whale watchers were winding their way up to Cape's cliff tops at Bullig, for the 1st formal watch.

Alas, the conditions had dis-improved and the wind had increased to f3-4, whipping up the whitecaps, which made for difficult viewing conditions. Despite this, a group of common dolphins were observed by some of the better equipped observers.

Whalewatching at Bullig, Cap Clear Is.Undaunted and with the option of a pelagic, the group joined Ciaran O' Driscoil's vessel, “Spirit of the Isles” at 14:30 for what was to be the highlight of the weekend. No sooner had we left Cape's North harbour than 3-4 harbour porpoises surfaced several times off our starboard, which were seen by all.

This three- hour trip provided a wonderful photo opportunity, as we motored around the historic Fastnet Rock. Sight-seeing over, the boat motored east towards a huge gathering of gannets circling and diving. Sure enough the gannets revealed a feeding group of c50+ common dolphins, which on occasion joined our vessel to bow-ride. We stayed with this group for about 45 minutes before continuing to explore Cape's rugged southern coast, returning to port at 17:30.

Given that no whales had been seen in the area for some time, participants were invited to the Bird Observatory to view some stunning video footage taken by the observatory warden, Steve Wing, back in May. When during a two-week period, between 4-5 minke whales were observed each day feeding on sand eels at the north end of the Island. This footage left few in any doubt as to why Cape is such a whale-watching hotspot.

Saturday finished, as it began with an illustrated talk given by Padraig Whooley on his whale watching peregrinations around the world, which included locations as varied as British Columbia, Patagonia and Baja. The talk finished early enough to leave plenty of time for a few pints in Ciaran Danny Mike's. No doubt, this aspect of the evening played no small part in the somewhat diminished numbers that turned out for the 09:00 whale watch the following morning!

Meeting at 09:00 for the 3rd and final land-based whale watch of the weekend, those hardy enough to endure the sore heads and blustery conditions were rewarded with further views of a group of c4-5 common dolphins, bow-riding a yacht, before they disappeared behind Blannan to our west.

In summary, with just harbour porpoise and common dolphins observed over the weekend, this may not have been Cape at its most cetaceous. But the fact that everyone saw plenty of dolphins at close quarters, during this lovely time of the year, made for a wonderful weekend, that was enjoyed by all the wildlife enthusiasts in the group.

The IWDG is