Míol Mór Conference - a great success

3rd Oct 2004 The Irish Whale and Dolphin Group organized an international conference in Rosscarbery, County Cork from 24-26 September, 2004. The theme of the conference was to put the recent discovery of the presence of fin and humpback whales off the south coast of Ireland into an international perspective.

International experts from North America and Europe were invited to share their knowledge and experience so we can learn more about these whales at other sites. The Irish Whale and Dolphin Group presented the results of four years of monitoring large whales off County Cork and their current research aimed at determining what is attracting these whales to the Irish coast. Included at the conference was the premier of the documentary film “The Return of the Irish Humpbacks”.

Friday 24th September

On Friday night around 130 people attended the film premier of “The Return of the Irish Humpbacks”. The sense of anticipation was tangible as nobody, included those people who had featured in the documentary, had seen any of the film before. The stage was beautifully set as IWDG member Hauke Steinberg sang the lament “The last of the great whales” as the lights dimmed and people sat expectantly facing the large screen. The reaction to the film was excellent including from families with young children and it was shown three times over the weekend.

Saturday 25th September

Saturday morning began with Phil Clapham, Director of Large Whale Research at NOAA in Massachusetts describing the ecology and present knowledge of humpback whales in the North Atlantic. Phil's informative talk was accompanied by stunning images of humpback whales from all around the world.

After coffee, Pádraig Whooley presented his work from the Old Head of Kinsale, County Cork where he has carried out over 180 quantified effort watches from 1999 to 2003. This huge body of information, unrivalled in Ireland, reports a 70% success rate of observing cetaceans on a watch during 9 months (July to March). At least two species were observed per watch during 6 months of the year. These data clearly show humpback whales are regularly seen between September and December and fin whales from June to January. To date, four individual humpback and four individual fin whales have been identified using photo-identification. Padraig Whooley, IWDG

Following Pádraig, Rosemary Seton of Allied Whale in Bar Harbour, Maine, explained how photo-identification is used to identify individual whales and how the matching techniques can be used to show where humpback whales breed and feed and their movements between the two sites. Rosie showed how little we know about humpback whales on this side of the Atlantic and how even small photo-identification catalogues can grow and how a few matches can really contribute to our knowledge of the whales. The suggestion that Irish humpback whales may be originating from breeding grounds in Cape Verde was discussed but cannot be validated until more images at both locations are obtained.

After lunch, four boats steamed out of Union Hall in search of whales. This was a landmark occasion as never had such a fleet of whalewatching boats departed a port in Ireland. Although fin whales were sighted on the previous day, the intrepid whalewatchers had to contend themselves with sightings of common dolphins in strong winds and increasing sea-state. The fresh sea air certainly increased peoples' appetite for the conference dinner.

The Míol Mór conference dinner was a memorable occasion. From the moment delegates had made themselves comfortable and poured themselves a drink, they were informed that there was an ongoing Whale Quiz and it was to be organized by table. As the first course was starting, the first que