IWDG Whale Track

First Irish humpback whale record of 2019.

Well, it's the news every Irish whale enthusiast and researcher has been waiting for in recent weeks....where and when would the first humpback of 2019 be recorded?  Yesterday April 16th, we got our answer.  A morning trip out from Reen Pier with Colin Barnes produced a very large stomach churning swell, but in among these Atlantic rollers was a distant strong blow of a whale that just wasn't didn't look right for a minke whale. So with the swell falling off, we decided to join Colin's afternoon trip and ventured out of Castlehaven harbour around 15:00 in improving sea conditions, although there was still a good swell from the recent stormy weather. 

About 50 minutes into the trip we picked up another good blow and a whale that was simply too robust in build to be anything other than a humpback.  For the next hour it was very illusive, giving us the slip in an area where we estimated were upwards of a dozen minkes.  Given the timing intervals of the blows and the locations where it surfaced, it's likely there was more than one humpback in the area.  We finally connected with it and although the initial encounters were sub optimal, either too distant, too oblique or shooting into the glare, our patience was rewarded when the whale started lob tailing and pec slapping (image below). 

Photographing whales from the roof of any boat is never a straightforward task, but it’s even trickier when you’re also holding on to the safety rail for dear life. With some of the passengers feeling worse for wear, skipper called it a day and we headed back to harbour,  pleased that we had some strong record shots of the first humpback of the season.  In the previous 3 years, the first humpbacks have been reported off the Beara Peninsula, straddling the Rebel county and the “Kingdom”, and there was a nice trend which showed their arriving a little earlier each year. In 2018 the earliest recorded sighting was 25th March when Mark Westlake photographed 2 humpbacks off Crow Head.  There may well have been humpbacks off the Beara in recent weeks, but with the awful weather, they’d have passed unnoticed by man and most beasts.

Initial thoughts on looking through my cameras LCD on the way back in, were that this animal didn’t look familiar, but it became clear very soon once images were downloaded to PC, where they could be viewed on a large screen, that even the dorsal fin matched easily with #HBIRL87. And so our 1st humpback of 2019 is yet another animal that we recognise from last year; an inter-annual re-sight if you don’t mind! Coincidentally (or perhaps not) the first sightings of it last year were from the same platform, the Holly Jo, and Colin documented this whale in the waters between Galley Head and Rosscarbery Bay over  five dates between May 4th and 10th June 2018.  One year later this small humpback has returned to the very same stretch of the West Cork coastline. Where it was in the interim 9 months remains a mystery…..a wonderful mystery, which we hope during the course of this WhaleTrack Ireland project to solve.

Let’s hope that this is the 1st of many such humpback sightings to be reported by IWDG under WhaleTrack Ireland, which is a collaboration with Ryanair and funded by their passengers.  The humpback season will probably run until until July, by which time sightings of this iconic species will likely taper off.  As always please keep IWDG informed of any whale sightings you have in your area, or perhaps bring to our attention any social media posts you find concerning sightings of what may be humpback or fin whales, as we are anxious to try and find new areas where they may be occurring. As although the Irish southwest gets the majority of the large whale action, they must surely be speculatively foraging in other areas too.










Tail fluke marks on the right lobe confirm this to be #HBIRL87, a Juv. humpback whale


Images & copy by Pádraig Whooley, IWDG Sightings Officer

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You are welcome to share or use information and articles from this website but please reference the source and acknowledge the IWDG.