12 November 2018

The Humpback Whales of Baltimore

Baltimore, West Cork has long been the whale and dolphin watching capital of West Cork with a season spanning April through December. Sightings include species from the smaller minke whales and common dolphins right up to the mighty fin whale and humpback whale. In addition, basking sharks, leatherback turtles, Atlantic sunfish, harbour porpoises and seals all make up the regular marine sightings that we get off this part of the southwest coast with Whale Watch West Cork.  Occasional sightings of rarer species like Risso’s dolphins make up the portfolio of marine varieties we get in these rich waters and around the islands of Roaringwater Bay and to the east.

During the 2012 season we have documented a stunning array of sightings of iconic species. Lunge feeding minke whales, breaching basking sharks, large aggregations of harbour porpoises, large adult leatherback turtles and “super groups” of common dolphins have all contributed to this year being one of the best sightings years we have had for the past half decade. This was only marred  when Baltimore was in the news after a young Fin Whale stranded in the harbour mid summer. Taking several days to succumb this animal was a distressing sight as we all had to endure the spectacle of a large marine mammal during it’s death throes.

Ever the whale watching capital of the southwest of Ireland, Baltimore has been back in the whale news for all the right reasons this Autumn. From the beginning of November, we have been having regular sightings of both Fin and Humpback whales both in the harbour offing and further east and south of this part of the West Cork coastline between The Galley Head and Cape Clear Island.

For the avid whale and dolphin enthusiast there have been some fabulous opportunities for whale watching, both from the boat Voyager and from the strategic outlooks on land. Some of the best land based sightings have been from our observatory overlooking Castlehaven and Rosscarbery Bays and from Toe Head which overlooks Barlogue Bay and into the southern reaches of Baltimore Bay. Jaw dropping displays of lunge feeding of small groups of fin whales and humpback whales have been recorded beneath equally impressive flocks of gannets, kittiwakes and other gulls wheeling and screeching as they feed on bait balls of sprats driven to the surface by hungry mouths beneath the surface…not a good time to be a fish in these waters!

Of all the behavioural activities we observe, breaching (leaping out of the water) is one of the most spectacular. This season, 2012 has been the “year of the breach”. A poorly understood activity which may be associated with feeding or breeding behaviour. From early season breaching basking sharks to, only the second time we have recorded it in West Cork, breaching sunfish in August. Large groups of Porpoises breaching as they feed inshore in the Autumn…this was only surpassed by the multiple breaches we observed in mid August of an adult minke whale that had been feeding off the mouth of Baltimore Harbour. This season of breaching behaviour has culminated in a humpback whale breaching in Baltimore Bay and recorded by photographer Simon Duggan of Baltimore 

The fin whale and humpback whales off Baltimore have provided a lovely end to a stunning season of cetacean activity.

















Humpback Whale video

Another Humpback Whale video



Deutsch Übersetzung

Die Buckelwale von Baltimore

Baltimore ist seit langem die Wale und Delfine beobachten Hauptstadt von West Cork mit einer Saison Spanning April bis Dezember. Species Sichtungen von den kleineren Zwergwale und Delfine bis hin zu den mächtigen Finnwal und Buckelwal. Riesenhaie, Lederschildkröten, Atlantic Mondfisch, Schweinswale und Robben alle bilden die regulären marine Sichtungen, dass wir aussteigen diesen Teil der Südwestküste. Gelegentliche Sichtungen seltener Tierarten wie Rundkopfdelphine bilden das Portfolio von marine Sorten erhalten wir in diesen reichen Gewässern und um die Inseln Roaringwater Bay und im Osten.

Während der Saison 2012 haben wir eine beeindruckende Auswahl an Sichtungen von ikonischen Arten dokumentiert. Lunge Fütterung Zwergwale, Verletzung Riesenhaie, große Ansammlungen von Schweinswalen, große Erwachsene Lederschildkröten und “super Gruppen” Gemeine Delfine haben alle in diesem Jahr als einer der besten Sichtungen Jahren haben wir im letzten halben Jahrzehnt hat beigetragen haben. Dies wurde nur getrübt, wenn Baltimore war in den Nachrichten nach einem jungen Finnwal im Hafen gestrandet. Unter mehreren Tagen auf dieses Tier erliegen war eine erschütternde Anblick, wie wir alle, um das Schauspiel eines großen Meeressäuger während ihres Todeskampfes ertragen.

Schon der Walbeobachtung Hauptstadt der südwestlich von Irland hat Baltimore zurück in den Wal-Nachrichten für alle den richtigen Gründen in diesem Herbst gewesen. Ab Anfang November haben wir mit regelmäßigen Sichtungen von beiden Finn-und Buckelwale sowohl im Hafen offing und weiter östlich und südlich von diesem Teil der West Cork Küste zwischen The Galley Head und Cape Clear Island.

Für den passionierten Wal-und Delfin-Enthusiasten gibt es einige fantastische Möglichkeiten für die Walbeobachtung, sowohl vom Boot Voyager und den strategischen Perspektiven auf dem Land. Einige der besten landgestützten Sichtungen wurden von unserer Sternwarte Blick Castlehaven und Rosscarbery Bays und Toe Head, die Barlogue Bay überblickt und in die südlichen Ausläufer von Baltimore Bay gewesen. Jaw dropping Displays Ausfallschritt Fütterung von kleinen Gruppen von Finnwale und Buckelwale haben unter ebenso beeindruckende Schwärme von Basstölpel, Dreizehenmöwen und anderen Möwen kreisten und Kreischen, als sie ernähren Köder Kugeln Sprotten an die Oberfläche getrieben von hungrigen Münder unter der Oberfläche erfasst … nicht ein guter Zeitpunkt, um einen Fisch in diesen Gewässern sein!

Von all den Verhaltensstörungen Aktivitäten, die wir beobachten, ist verletzt (springt aus dem Wasser) eine der spektakulärsten. In dieser Saison hat 2012 war das “Jahr der Verletzung” einer schlecht verstandenen Tätigkeit, die mit der Fütterung oder Brutverhalten verbunden sein können. Von Beginn der Saison verletzt Riesenhaie auf, erst das zweite Mal haben wir es aufgenommen haben in West Cork, Verletzung Mondfisch im August. Große Gruppen von Schweinswale Verletzung, wie sie Küstenfischerei füttern im Herbst … das war nur durch die zahlreichen Verstöße wir Mitte August von einem Erwachsenen Zwergwal, dass hatte Fütterung vor der Mündung des Baltimore Harbour beobachtet übertroffen. In dieser Saison der Verletzung Verhalten wurde in einem Buckelwal Verletzung in Baltimore Bay mündete und aufgezeichnet wurde vom Fotografen Simon Duggan von Baltimore

Der Finnwal und Buckelwale off Baltimore haben eine schöne Ende einer atemberaubenden Saison Tätigkeit vorgesehen is





A whale of a discovery: New sensory organ found in rorqual whales

Dwarf Minke Whale

A new sensory organ, found within the chin of rorqual whales, is responsible for coordinating the biomechanics of their extreme lunge-feeding strategy. Art by Carl Buell, arranged by Nicholas D. Pyenson / Smithsonian Institution.

May 2012. Scientists at the University of British Columbia and the Smithsonian Institution have discovered a sensory organ in rorqual whales that coordinates its signature lunge-feeding behaviour – and may help explain their enormous size.

Rorqual whales
Rorquals are a subgroup of baleen whales – including Blue, Fin, Minke and Humpback whales. They are characterized by a special, accordion-like blubber layer that goes from the snout to the navel. The blubber expands up to several times its resting length to allow the whales to engulf large quantities of prey-laden water, which is then expelled through the baleen to filter krill and fish.

The study, to be featured on the cover of the journal Nature, details the discovery of an organ at the tip of the whale’s chin, lodged in the ligamentous tissue that connects their two jaws.

Samples collected from Icelandic whaling
Samples were collected from recently deceased Fin and Minke whale carcasses captured as part of Icelandic commercial whaling operations. Commercial whaling in Iceland resumed in 2006 and quotas are determined annually by its government.

Scanning of the whale’s chin revealed a grape fruit-sized sensory organ, located between the tips of the jaws, and supplied by neurovascular tissue.

The research team was assisted by technicians at FPInnovations, the owner of Canada’s only X-ray computed tomography (XRCT) machine large enough to accommodate the massive specimens. Used to scan giant logs, the XRCT machine provides a three dimensional map of the internal structure of whale tissues.

Coordinates lunge feeding
“We think this sensory organ sends information to the brain in order to coordinate the complex mechanism of lunge-feeding, which involves rotating the jaws, inverting the tongue and expanding the throat pleats and blubber layer,” says lead author Nick Pyenson, a paleobiologist at the Smithsonian Institution, who conducted the study while a postdoctoral fellow at UBC. “It probably helps rorquals feel prey density when initiating a lunge.”

Catches 10 kilograms of Krill in each gulp
A Fin whale, the second longest whale on the planet, can engulf as much as 80 cubic metres of water and prey – equal or greater than the size of the whale itself – in each gulp in less than six seconds. A previous study by co-author Jeremy Goldbogen showed that a Fin whale captures 10 kilograms of krill in each gulp in order to sustain its average 50-ton body mass. Goldbogen, who conducted both studies while a PhD student at UBC, is now a scientist with the Cascadia Research Collective in Olympia, Washington.

A new sensory organ, found within the chin of rorqual whales, is responsible for coordinating the biomechanics of their extreme lunge-feeding strategy. Left, a fin whale after lunging; right, anatomy of the new sensory organ. Art by Carl Buell, arranged by Nicholas D. Pyenson / Smithsonian Institution.
A new sensory organ, found within the chin of rorqual whales, is responsible for coordinating the biomechanics of their extreme lunge-feeding strategy. Left, a fin whale after lunging; right, anatomy of the new sensory organ. Art by Carl Buell, arranged by Nicholas D. Pyenson / Smithsonian Institution.

“In terms of evolution, the innovation of this sensory organ has a fundamental role in one of the most extreme feeding methods of aquatic creatures,” says co-author and UBC Zoology Prof. Bob Shadwick.

“Because the physical features required to carry out lunge-feeding evolved before the extremely large body sizes observed in today’s rorquals, it’s likely that this sensory organ – and its role in coordinating successful lunging – is responsible for rorquals claiming the largest-animals-on-earth status,” Shadwick adds.

“This also demonstrates how poorly we understand the basic functions of these top predators of the ocean and underlines the importance for biodiversity conservation.”

The study was supported by grants from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada and the Smithsonian Institution. FPInnovations’ XRCT machine was a joint project with the University of Northern British Columbia and funded by the Canada Foundation for Innovation and the BC Knowledge Development Fund.

Published first in Wildlife Extra

North Atlantic right whale spotted off Cornwall?

North Atlantic right whales are usually found off the East Coast of USA.

North Atlantic Right Whale (c) RTSea Blog

Cornish mystery whale could be one or the most endangered species- scientists appeal for more sightings

May 2012. Sightings of a large whale off the Cornish coast near Lizard Point are causing a stir amongst scientists who say it could have been a North Atlantic right whale, one of the most endangered species in the world. Other possibilities are the Gray whale which went extinct in Atlantic Waters in the 17th century, though one was seen in 2010 in The Mediterranean, or a humpback whale.

Peter Evans, Research Director of the marine mammal research and conservation charity Sea Watch has described the sightings as ‘exciting and intriguing’. He is appealing for anyone else who has seen the whale to contact Sea Watch – a national marine conservation charity and holder of the largest data base of whales and dolphins in Europe – with descriptions, and, if possible, pictures.

Since the whale was seen in April discussions between local experts, eye witnesses and the marine research and conservation charity Sea Watch suggest that the North Atlantic right whale is the most likely species.

The whale was seen off the coast of Cornwall in April 2012.

Seen off The Lizard
The whale was seen by a group of teenage anglers, Jim Cave, a local resident, and by a canoeist off Hot Point, just east of Lizard Point. It may also have been the same one seen in the same area last autumn.

Sea Watch Research Director Peter Evans has described the sightings as ‘exciting and intriguing’. He is appealing for anyone else who has seen the whale to contact Sea Watch – a national marine conservation charity and holder of the largest data base of whales and dolphins in Europe – with descriptions, and ,if possible, pictures.

Local expert
Rory Goodall, of Elemental Tours, of Penzance, and a Sea Watch approved boat operator, has been helping collect local data on whales, dolphins and porpoises for 20 years and has spoken to those who saw the whale. He has checked the sea maps and confirms there is a sea shelf which plunges down to from 8 to 30 m in the area where the whale was spotted – plenty of depth for one to feed. After some weeks locating witnesses and getting descriptions, Dr Evans agrees with Jim Cave and Rory Goodall that it does indeed sound very like a North Atlantic right whale.

North Atlantic Right Whale (c) NOAA

North Atlantic right whale
Dr Evans says: “We cannot be certain, but from the description of a large whale, with barnacles towards the front, no dorsal fin, and a wide tail, it does sound like a North Atlantic right whale. There have only been a handful of sightings of the species in European seas over the last 50 years, the latest includes off the Azores in 2009, and some distance north of Shetland in July 2000.

Gray whale?
“The only other possibilities are Gray whale or humpback whale. Gray whales also have no dorsal fin. However, they became extinct in the North Atlantic in the seventeenth century – then to everyone’s surprise one was spotted in the Mediterranean two years ago, first off Israel and then in south-east Spain. It was presumed that it had come from the North Pacific, entering the Atlantic via the Arctic Ocean now that it has become navigable as a result of ice melt caused by global warming.

Pacific Gray Whale

“Humpback whales have a dorsal fin but this varies in size and it might not have been visible at the time. Humpback sightings are increasing around the British Isles, though mainly off Scotland. The last sightings off Cornwall were in July 2011 when a juvenile was seen entangled in a fishing net near St Ives, and in August 2010 when a young one live stranded and died in the same area.”

Humpback Whale

The first North Atlantic right whale seen in the Azores since 1888 was spotted in 2009.

The mystery whale was sighted when Church Cove garden plant breeder Jim Cave was out on a rare angling trip off Hot Point (SW717123), just east of Lizard Point. It was around midday on April 8th when he was alerted by shouts from some young anglers down on the rocks.

Jim said: “I looked up when I heard them shouting’ it’s a whale’. I had a good view but did not see the head. Just the back that was breaking the surface smoothly and quite long and not a lot above sea level. Then the tail appeared straight up into the air and very large- 2m -and smoothly disappeared. The tail was forked but not deeply and I saw some barnacles at the front end.”

Rory Goodall says: “I was really excited when I heard of the sighting from my old family friend Jim Cave. We have various kinds of whales visiting us here in the south west but I immediately knew from Jim’s description that this was something very different.

No dorsal fin
“We discovered that on the previous day, the 7th of April, a quarter of a mile away at Lizard Point, local kayaker, Daniel Wood was surprised by a loud hissing noise. On turning, he saw the spray from a whale’s blow, and watched as the animal rose and cruised past him, not forty feet away. He was expecting to see a dorsal fin but to his surprise there didn’t appear to be one. From all the evidence gathered it seems likely that it was the same animal seen on both days and that it was most likely to be, despite its rarity, a Northern Right Whale.”

The population of North Atlantic right whales in the eastern North Atlantic is now extremely small due to centuries of over-exploitation. Of the handful of records, most are from the Iberian Peninsula south to the Canaries. Although the species can migrate as far north as Iceland, the majority used to occur much further south which is why they could easily be hunted – human populations living around the shores of the Bay of Biscay and Southern Britain (possibly also the southern North Sea) could readily go out and find them – hence one of their alternative names, ‘Biscayan whale’.

Article was first published in Wildlife Extra News

Lovely sightings off West Cork in balmy Spring weather…

This last week has afforded us some lovely sightings in relatively calm seas…but the sun was shining…most of the time!

Good Minke Whale activity with 2/3 animals feeding actively and attracting large numbers of Gannets and Manx Shearwaters. Minke whale activity was also reported by Rory Jackson over a week ago south of Toe Head while he was delivering a yacht west of Castletowshend. We had a single animal breach south of the Kedges a week ago. Animals seen as far apart as Rosscarbery Bay in the east to Cape Clear in the west.

Basking Shark numbers increasing nicely in this sunny weather. Some big fellas around too. In Roaringwater Bay and south of the islands. These leviathans also draw lots of interest being the second largest fish in the world and reaching lengths locally up to 7 metres in length.

Lovely Common Dolphin activity. These were also reported by Michéal Cottrell having been seen south of Spain Point some days ago. Encountered a small group of 5 animals well south of The Kedges yesterday having been alerted by the Gannet activity in the area to the south. This is early for Common Dolphins as we don’t usually see them in any numbers inshore until late July and into August.

Good Harbour Porpoise numbers being spotted throughout  the area. These shy little whales always create interest when we spot them as you tend to see them only on their terms. One of six species of Porpoises in the world, all of which except the Dall’s Porpoise studiously avoid boats and people and engines. The smallest whale in the world is a porpoise, the Gulf of California Porpoise or Vaquita…tragically likely to follow the Yangtze River Dolphin into extinction during the next decade.

Among several Humpback sightings being reported during the last few days from east of Galley Head as far west as Baltimore Bay we had one animal south of Rabbit Island earlier in the week and a suspected sighting well south of The Kedges. Lovely to see these charismatic animals in the area.

Basking Shark taken by customer Les Dean

Another Basker by Les Dean

Common Dolphins next to Voyager

Common Dolphins bow riding Voyager

The Amazing Gray Whales of Baja California Sur, Mexico…

Well! We are back from our Baja adventures and the wonderful gray whales of the pacific lagoons. We all enjoyed ourselves enormously and the whale watching was superb. Gray whale calves nudging the boat along with it’s head and huge adult animals, 45 feet long and weighing in at around 40 tonnes lying next to the boat while excited whale watchers scratch the top of her rostrum and marvel at the barnacle growth around the enormous blow holes…

When exposed to this type of experience where one of the largest mammals on earth comes in close to a boat and allows it’s excited human inhabitants to lean out and rub their hands along the jawline and around the eye, with it’s calf right lying over it’s tail stock, it is hard to believe you are not in some form of virtual reality theme park. You are not though…

…these are wild animals that travel thousands of miles from their Alaskan feeding grounds to the warm and tranquil lagoon waters of Baja, Mexico to calve and rear their young during their early weeks…before making the return journey and running the gauntlet of predatory packs of killer whales in Monterey Bay and the rigours of a 5,000 mile journey into the cold waters of the Arctic.

Here are a selection of the images we took. Drop me a line if you are interested in our 2013 programme for watching Baja’s fabulous gray whales.

Mother and Calf close to the boat









Young gray whale head on









Spyhopping adult gray whale












Gray whale tail fluke going left to right









Adult gray whale by boat









Gray whale calf next to boat









The calf is just under the water

Westcorktimes.COM…There are few occasions where I am so impressed by an initiative that I wish to blog it…

BUT working out of Bantry, Clare Farrelly and David Forsythe have
created the West Cork Times, www.westcorktimes.com a unique and unusual
online presence that brings news, views and articles to West Cork locals and
visitors and any others wishing to keep abreast of developments in West
Cork. A logical and easy navigation backs up this well laid out site making
perusal of the news a pleasure.  West Cork Times is an online news hub
covering issues from the environment to education and tourism to
transport...over an area from Beara to Kinsale.

The West Cork Times describes itself as a "hyperlocal website...Westcorktimes.com
aims to be an online hub for West Cork with up-to-the-minute news and information
for communities across the region. West Cork is a unique place and our aim is to deliver
for West Cork the kind of unique, professionally produced web presence the area
deserves. There are a number of exciting and innovative features planned for
the website which will develop over the coming months. The site is locally
owned by West Cork-based Wetrocks Media Ltd..."

Without a doubt one of the really exciting new initiatives to be developed by West Cork
Residents. What do you think

GALWAY – 24TH MARCH – A must for all whale and dolphin watch operators…Whale & Dolphin Watch Operators Workshop

Whale & Dolphin Watch Operators Workshop


Benefit from sustainable practice, learn from your customers, and make more money!

Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology, Galway, Ireland, 9.00 – 17.30 Saturday 24th March 2012


I have long been an admirer of Dylan Walker and all that he has achieved. When I heard that he was teaming up with Ian Rowlands to form Planet Whale I thought, only good can come out of this. So with a spring in my step and suitcase packed I headed off to Brighton last November to attend the whale watch operators workshop held just before WhaleFest. My high expectations were entirely justified. Apart from being supremely competent organisers, Dylan and Ian have a firm handle on the key issues facing the whale watching industry worlwide. The operators workshop addressed such critical issues as reducing impact on marine wildlife and environment in general, meeting and managing customer expectations and getting involved in valuable research. The afternoon session provided one of the most meaningful learning experiences I have ever had.

Take it from me, the workshop being organised by Dylan and Ian for Galway on 24th March should be a must for any operator who takes his business seriously…hope to see you there.

Click here for more information