“Pick days when the sea is calm and watch what the birdies are doing !”

26th Feb 2004 After having completed 22 watches around Blasket Sound in West Kerry, from either Dunmore Head or Slea Head, it seemed like a good time for me to review the results so far.

This report covers a 16 month period from the 6 October 2002 and concludes on the 11 February 2004 at an average of just under 1.5 watches per month. While the watches were spread fairly evenly over the year, there were gaps in February, May and November 2003. This was due to unfavourable weather conditions and having to work occasionally !

The total watch time for the period was 3005 minutes (which is just over 50 hours). The average length of watch was 137 minutes, with the longest being 240 minutes and the shortest 40 minutes. Most watches (14) were between 100 and 180 minutes.

Species recorded were:

i) Harbour Porpoise, on 18 watches, present all year round,

ii) Minke whale, on 7 watches, with sightings from August to October inclusive,

iii) Bottlenose Dolphin, 1 watch,

iv) Risso's Dolphin, 1 watch,

v) Unidentified cetaceans on 4 watches

In all, cetaceans were seen on 19 of the 22 watches (86.4%). On three occasions three different species were seen. Scientifically, it is the facts and figures reported above which are important. However, from a personal point of view, they do not convey the thrill of the unexpected sound and sight of a Minke whale blowing within 50m of the cliffs, which has happened at both Slea and Dunmore Heads, or the sight of two adult and one juvenile Risso's dolphin cruising past Slea Head also within 50m of the cliffs. As the number of watches increases I can now take more note of the animals behaviour, especially in the case of the Harbour porpoise.

Anecdotal evidence from other people suggests there are a lot more sightings in the Blasket Sound area, particularly of Bottlenose and Common dolphins and Killer Whale. Unfortunately, as much of these sightings are not recorded, valuable information is lost. Finally, if I were to be asked for two pieces of advice on whalewatching, I would have to repeat the old mantras – pick days when the sea is calm and watch what the birdies are doing !

Mick O'Connell

(Contact Mick on Mick.Oconnell@iwdg.ie)