16 November 2018

Brian Gallagher on Whale Watching with Whale Watch West Cork

The journalist Brian Gallagher spends a day whale watching aboard Voyager with Nic Slocum of Whale Watch West Cork and is amazed by the sightings and rounding the Fastnet Rock and Lighthouse.



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Codes of Conduct 2013

Whale and Dolphin Watching Guidlines 2013

Nic Slocum and the Whale Watch West Cork team have spent many years reviewing  codes of conduct for boat based interactions with cetaceans from around the globe.

We have compiled the most comprehensive Code of Conduct for the interaction between boats and cetaceans in Irish waters. This Code of Conduct is reviewed every year and updated where necessary based on first hand experience of the interactions we have each year with the many species we encounter off West Cork with Whale Watch West Cork and abroad with Whales Worldwide.

Nic Slocum has been watching whales and dolphins from boats for over 25 years and has been running Whale Watch West Cork for nearly 10 years. He runs overseas whale watching tours to Baja, Maui and Patagonia and is an outspoken advocate of responsible and sustainable whale and dolphin watching. He is the Chairman of the Steering Committee of The Responsible Whale Watching Partnership

Little is known about the nature of human cetacean interaction and unregulated exposure to whale watching tourism may have a detrimental impact on cetaceans. There is no mechanism in place in Irish southern coastal waters to monitor the impact of whale and dolphin watching operations on either migratory or resident animals. This requires whale watch operators to maintain very rigid standards and adopt a highly responsible mode of operation in order to reduce negative impact to a minimum.


Whale Watching Guidelines…

Version 2013

As the more responsible protagonists within the global industry have expressed the need for a more formal approach to the development of whale watching activities, a plethora of guidelines for the interaction of boats and cetaceans have been produced, many of them only voluntary. Some, like those in Ireland, have been incorporated into a formal publication. This requires commercial and recreational boat users operating in Irish waters to adhere to a minimum set of guidelines when they encounter whales or dolphins.

Educational Value of Whale Watching…

Whale Watch West Cork is committed to the educational value of whale and dolphin watching in enabling the sharing of the wider marine conservation message with as many people as possible, especially the young. We also provide a platform for research and the gathering of routine information that will help in the wider understanding of whales and dolphins in Irish waters.

Responsible Whale Watching…

Whale Watch West Cork is a “RESPONSIBLE” whale and dolphin watch operator who strongly adheres to the statutory guidelines. However, following many years of whale and dolphin watching from boats we believe these guidelines to be insufficient at the species level. Whale Watch West Cork has conducted an assessment of both statutory and voluntary guidelines and codes of conduct around the globe and reviewed the findings of our own research. As a result we have developed a Code of Conduct that incorporates the Irish statutory guidelines as set out in Marine Notice 15 of 2005 but also includes that which we judge to be a minimum requirement for the interaction of boats and cetaceans at the species level in Irish waters. As we gather more information and make further conclusions from our research we will adjust our Code of Conduct accordingly.

Code of Conduct for Recreational and Commercial Boats when Interacting with Cetaceans in Irish Waters

1) When whales or dolphins are first encountered, craft should maintain a steady course.

  • When practical stop the vessel or assume a “no wake speed” to determine whether they are feeding, travelling or prospecting for food. Assess what direction they may be moving in. Never cross the path of cetaceans attempting to cut them off or anticipate their moves. This applies to all species encountered.
  • Never approach animals at 90 degrees to individual animals or groups or head on or directly from behind. This applies to all species. Common and bottlenose dolphins will however, frequently approach boats of their own volition from a head on position and boats should be brought to a standstill until they have engaged.

2) Boat speed should be maintained below 7 knots.

  • We recommend all boat interactions with cetaceans to be carried out at tick over or “no wake” speed or less. A “no wake speed” is usually around 4 knots.
  • Ensure propeller revolutions are reduced to a minimum. This is very important with unguarded propellers. Particularly important when some dolphin species engage the boat.
  • When leaving the field of interaction to a distance of at least 400 meters boat speeds should be no more than 5 knots.
  • NEVER make rapid accelerations TOWARDS or AWAY from cetaceans however far away they may be.

3) Do not attempt to pursue whales or dolphins encountered.

  • Marine mammals should NEVER be pursued under ANY circumstances. This applies to ALL species.
  • Never split up groups of cetaceans. If you find yourself inadvertently in this position stop the boat and remain stationary with engine ticking over until the animals have moved away. This applies to all species.

4) In the case of dolphins, they will very often approach craft and may engage in bow riding. Always allow dolphins to approach a boat rather than attempt to go after them.

  • If dolphins engage voluntarily and bow ride be very vigilant, especially for young and adolescent animals as they may be less experienced than adult animals around boat bows, keels and propellers.
  • If there is any swell on the water and dolphins are bow riding always attempt to travel downwind or in the same direction as the wave train to avoid rapid “up and down” bow movements associated with heading into wind and waves.

5) Maintain a distance of at least 100m from whales.

  • Our research findings strongly indicate that 100 meters is often close enough to influence feeding behaviour patterns in both minke and fin whales. We therefore maintain distances of 150 meters during minke and fin whale interactions in order to minimize disturbance unless animals pass closer to the boat of their own accord during engine off “passive” viewing.

6) Maintain a distance of 200m between any other boats in the vicinity.

  • With minke and fin whales we try to establish at least 3-400 meters distance between whale watching craft when more than one boat is present during an interaction and encourage other boats to do the same.

7) Attempt to steer a course parallel to the direction whales or dolphins are taking.

  • With some dolphin species, especially the common dolphin, they will frequently actively engage the boat and bow ride to the front and side. Always travel in the same direction the animals were moving in when encountered. Extra vigilance should be exercised if very young and adolescent animals are present.
  • Never make sharp, sudden alterations to course when dolphins are bow riding.

8) Do not corral whales or dolphins between boats.

  • If this inadvertently happens due to the whale’s movements the boats should be stopped in the water with engines at tick over until animals have moved away.

9) Special care must be taken when young calves are seen – do not come between a mother and her calf.

10) Successive boats must follow the same course.

  • All approaches to a viewing area when another boat is present should be on the side opposite to any animals present. If there is any doubt use your radio and talk to the other boat/s.

11) Boats should not spend more than 30 minutes with whales or dolphins.

  • If there are two boats present at fin or minke whale interactions we recommend time limits of 15 minutes with an individual or group. We do the same in the presence of all dolphin species. In the case of engine off “passive” encounters we may remain in the field of interaction for up to 30 minutes if the animals remain in the area of their own accord.
  • During common dolphin interactions we limit interaction as follows: Traveling groups with young and adolescents and groups of feeding adults 15-20 minutes. Feeding groups with young and adolescent animals 10-15 minutes.
  • All boats should limit their cumulative time within an area in which whales or dolphins are present or thought to be present, to 30% of the scheduled tour time. This would be around 75 minutes for a scheduled tour of four hours in length.
  • All boats should stick rigidly to time limits. This will reduce the cumulative impact of many vessels on animals present and demonstrate consideration to other viewers, the environment and ABOVE ALL, the whales and dolphins being viewed.

12) DO NOT attempt to swim with cetaceans

  • Never attempt to touch animals or feed them.
  • Never encourage the boat Captain to get closer to animals and dissuade others from doing so politely. The best whale watch operators are those who abide by a very strict code of conduct and are thoughtful of the animal welfare issues and the environment. They are frequently those who have the best sightings.
  • Make as little noise as possible when you are in the presence of cetaceans. Sound travels furthest through water and can sound very loud to aquatic animals. When safe engine off encounters may yield some of the most memorable encounters with cetaceans.
  • During photography with all marine mammals flashes should be turned off.
  • All sonar devices (depth sounders, fish finders) should be switched off when a vessel is in the vicinity of whales and dolphins. These acoustic reduction measures are addressed as a precaution against noise pollution.
  • Always be aware of signs of distress. If you think animals are distressed leave the area of interaction immediately and very slowly.
  • Whenever a vessel is upwind of and in the vicinity of whales, engine exhaust emissions should be minimized by shutting down one or more engines if it is safe to do so.

Cousteau launches global alliance to save the whales again!

Jean-Michel Cousteau

Cousteau launches global alliance to

save the whales again!

 Charities and businesses from around the world form ‘world cetacean alliance’ in an overdue new partnership for whales and dolphins

In 1982 we thought we had ‘Saved the Whale’ when  in Brighton, UK, 42 world governments met at the Hilton hotel and took an historic vote to cease killing whales.  Yet today, despite years of campaigning, 1000 of these animals die daily from causes such as fishing by-catch, pollution, plastics, undersea mining, ship strike, whaling, and the captivity trade. Whales and dolphins (collectively known as cetaceans) are in trouble.

Now a group of organisations and dedicated individuals have joined forces to form a new network to represent these charismatic animals and bring together all who fight to protect them.

Led by Honorary President Jean-Michel Cousteau, the World Cetacean Alliance (WCA) launches as a partnership of charities, whale watching businesses and individual advocates from Argentina, Australia, Canada, Germany, Iceland, New Zealand, Portugal, Spain, UK, and the USA.

“Without collaboration we will achieve nothing more than a drop in the ocean”, explains ocean explorer Jean-Michel Cousteau, who has campaigned for ocean conservation for decades as an environmentalist, educator, and film producer. Mr Cousteau continued: “The World Cetacean Alliance is a unique opportunity to combine our collective energy, knowledge, and expertise in order to protect whales, dolphins, and their habitats.”

The Alliance believes everybody deserves a say in the important decisions that affect whales and dolphins, and will involve the widest possible stakeholder community, and especially the public, in all of its agreed actions. Even the Alliance’s name was chosen by a public vote.

WCA Partner Dr Ingrid Visser of the Orca Research Trust explains: “If the public knew that we didn’t already have a global network working together to protect whales and dolphins I think they would be shocked! In the past campaigns have often been disjointed and have typically lacked support from other organisations. As a result they usually have low impact, or fail altogether. The World Cetacean Alliance is our best chance in years to change all that; it’s a very exciting opportunity and we owe it to cetaceans to make it work!”

The Alliance begins with experts and the public mapping their ‘Areas of Concern’ for whales and dolphins around the world. This free online survey will identify and map priority issues affecting cetaceans, and each and every person that submits a map will be making a real difference. Every time the public circles an area they are concerned about, that place gets HOTTER. The hotter the place, the more pressure the WCA will be able to apply to get protection in that location.

As part of this the WCA is targeting three locations in need of immediate action. The first is New Zealand, home to the last 55 Maui’s dolphins, the most critically endangered dolphin in the world and threatened by commercial fishing practices. Second is one of the planet’s few remaining wildernesses, Antarctica; where the Ross Sea needs protection from commercial exploitation. Thirdly, the island of Tenerife, where wild orca ‘Morgan’ must be saved from an inhumane life in captivity.

The Alliance faces huge challenges but this does not daunt Dylan Walker of Planet Whale, the organisation that facilitated its creation. Said Mr Walker: “I am proud to be a part of this new network of organizations and individuals with a deep, collective determination to protect whales and dolphins. By working together we know we can achieve so much more than in the past. With a collective focus and a positive outlook, we will turn the tide before it is too late!”


For further information please contact:

Dylan Walker

Secretariat, World Cetacean Alliance

Planet Whale

2a Church Road, Hove, BN3 2FL. UK.

Tel: +44 (0)1273 355011

Cell: +44 (0)7900 471490



A rare and mysterious visitor in Walvis Bay

Original article produced in the Namibian Dolphin Project blog

Click on the header for original article…

That illusive tail fluke

A rare and mysterious visitor in Walvis Bay

by: John Paterson, Albatross Task Force and Walvis Bay Strandings Network

Gray whales, Eschrichtius robustus, live in the high Arctic and northern Pacific Oceans coming as far south as Baja California and Mexico on the west coast of America and the Korean Peninsula to breed in summer. It used to occur in the North Atlantic Ocean, but was hunted to extinction in the 1700’s. It does not venture south of the equator. Or so we thought.
Last Saturday, 04 May 2013, tour boats doing dolphin cruises to Pelican Point saw a strange whale. Several more sightings during the following week seemed to indicate the unlikely fact that a gray whale was visiting Walvis Bay! On Sunday 12 May a member of the Walvis Bay strandings network confirmed the reports that there was a gray whale about. This is the first known record of this species in the Southern Hemisphere. The question is now “what is the origin of this whale?”
In May 2010 a gray whale was seen off Israel in the Mediterranean sea and the same whale was seen 22 days later in Spanish waters, also in the Med. This sighting raised much speculation on the origin of the whale and the reasons for its appearance. It was suggested that the whale originated from the eastern Pacific population and was able to navigate around the northern Canada due to the reduction in size of the Arctic ice cap caused by global warming. This climatic trend would potentially allow these whales to re-colonise their historic range in the north Atlantic. The authors of that report stressed that it was difficult to draw conclusions from a single event and were only proposing likely hypotheses. Three years later a gray whale makes its mysterious appearance in Walvis Bay. Comparing photographs of the Walvis Bay animal with the Mediterranean animal (courtesy of Aviad Scheinin –  http://www.hamaarag.org.il ), it seems unlikely that this is the same individual. Is it another individual that has traversed the North West Passage, or perhaps travelled around the southern tip of South America and across the Atlantic? Unfortunately, we’ll never know the route it followed to get here but keen eyes on the water may tell us where it goes next, so please send your reports to the WBSN if you see this animal.
Gray whales grow up to 14 m in length and undertake the longest known migration of any mammal completing a round trip of over 30,000 km between their summer feeding grounds in the high Arctic and winter breeding area off the coast of Mexico returning to the high Arctic again. The whale seen off Israel had completed the longest known stray by any mammal. Though they are baleen whales gray whales are unique in that they feed off the bottom of the sea floor by sucking up mud, usually through the right side of their mouths, and filter out the bottom mud dwelling amphipods on which they feed. This results in the baleen being shorter in one side of their mouths.
This sighting highlights the chances of seeing amazing animals in Namibia and also how important our marine environment is to sea life. Well done to the marine tour operators for locating this whale and operating in a responsible manner and not scaring the whale off. The Walvis Bay Strandings Network would like to thank the tour operators for passing on all sightings of this whale and particularly Mola Mola Tours for making space on their vessel so that we could confirm the identification and get photographs.

UK politicians united in call on Japan to end commercial whaling

First published by Tom Quinn of  The International Fund for Animal Welfare in association with the launch of their new report “The economics of Japanese whaling”…


MPs and Peers from across the political spectrum in Britain have called upon Japan to end its cruel and unnecessary whaling programme. More than 30 Parliamentarians attended the launch of our new report, ‘The Economics of Japanese Whaling’ in the House of Commons, all united in their opposition to this outdated, costly and unsustainable practice.

At our event, the International Fund for Animal Welfare Japan representative Naoko Funahashi led attendees through an engaging presentation outlining the stark reality that Japanese whaling only continues to be viable due to a sizeable Japanese government subsidy, including funds donated for tsunami relief following the devastating earthquake in 2011. She highlighted national polls demonstrating that the majority of Japanese people are indifferent to whaling and that the vast majority oppose the use of their taxes to prop up this dying industry.

Naoko also provoked much amusement as she revealed clear statistics demonstrating the lack of market for whale meat in Japan. Chicken, pork, beef and even horsemeat are more popular than whale for Japanese consumers. For a nation gripped by the news that horsemeat has been retailing as beef in many processed food products this provided light relief from the grim picture Naoko painted of a pointless industry that continues to hunt these sentient and majestic creatures for no discernable benefit.

Jointly hosted by Liberal Democrat Adrian Sanders MP and Conservative Justin Tomlinson MP, our event saw Labour Shadow Minister Tom Harris MP confirm his party’s unequivocal opposition to whaling. Tom has joined IFAW on our Song of the Whalescientific research vessel, watching minke whales off the coast of Iceland, and so he kindly spoke in glowing terms of the scientific rigour on which we base all of our campaign work.

He was also quick to praise the commitment of his opposite number, Environment Minister Richard Benyon, to ending commercial whaling. IFAW works closely with the Minister on this issue, but unfortunately due to personal reasons he had to pull out of speaking at our event. Nevertheless he confirmed the Government’s opposition to whaling in a letter to IFAW, stating that “there is absolutely no justification for this whaling and the UK will continue to oppose it”.

All the MPs who attended had their photo taken endorsing our report, and a great many were successful in promoting their support on this issue in their local media. The message from our event was clear – no matter what political differences they may have, politicians from all parties in the UK are united in their opposition to commercial whaling.


National Whale and Dolphin Watch – Sea Watch Foundation

Sea Watch Foundation

National Whale and Dolphin Watch

27th July – 4th August 2013

 National Whale and Dolphin Watch, Britain’s largest cetacean watch is fast approaching and we’re hoping to make it bigger than ever – please help us publicise the event by posting it on your events pages and by printing off copies of the attached poster and putting them up in your local region.

More information at www.seawatchfoundation.org.uk or sightings@seawatchfoundation.org.uk

How to get involved

NWDW – how to get involved


NWDW 2013_poster


Naval Exercises Kill Cetaceans…It’s official


Click here for full article

On June 9, 2008, at least 60 dolphins stranded along the coast of Cornwall, England, in what was by far the largest common dolphin mortality ever seen in British waters. For hours, rescuers tried to lead them back to sea — often unsuccessfully, as some of the animals were panicked and others just milled about in tight circles, resistant to saving. The forensic investigation that followed involved 24 experts

(c) Live Science

Nic Slocum of Whale Watch West Cork and Whales Worldwide appointed to Chair of Planet Whale steering committee of the sustainable whale watching partnership

Dr Nic Slocum, Managing Director of the Ireland based whale watch operator Whale Watch West Cork has been appointed to the chairmanship of the steering committee of the Planet Whale responsible whale watching partnership as of May 2013.

This role will entail pulling together a team of experts from the responsible whale watching partnership who will look at such diverse issues as codes of conduct at the species level for different activities such as swim with programmes, education within the whale watching industry and working with the IWC standing committee  for whale watching in the launch of their new five year plan for whale watching and the implementation of their proposed online whale watching guide.



International Whaling Commission (IWC) invites leading Ireland based whale watch operator and pioneer of sustainable whale watching to attend whale watch operators workshop in Brisbane, Australia…

Dr Nic Slocum, Managing Director of Whale Watch West Cork and chairman of the steering committee of the Planet Whale responsible Whale Watching Partnership, has been invited to attend the IWC Whale Watch Operator’s Workshop on 24th-26th May in Brisbane, Australia.

The IWC is drawing on operator expertise from around the globe during this two day workshop to assist in the implementation of it’s five year plan for sustainable whale watching. This will cover issues such as the use of whale watching boats to gather meaningful scientific data; systems for monitoring adverse impact of whale watching on cetacean populations; how to share expertise between whale watching nations, building responsibility for sustainable whale watching within the industry and the creation and development of an adaptive management framework.

Ryan Wulff, NOAA, Chair of the IWC Working Group on Whale Watching said “…we’re looking forward to your input and making real progress with implementation of the five-year plan and development of the online whale watch handbook…”

The IWC has been considering the issue of sustainable whale watching since 1975 and adopted its first resolution on global whale watching in 1993. In 1998 a standing whale watching sub-committee was set up under the existing scientific committee and has since addressed a range of matters concerning the sector. Much of its work has focussed on better identifying, assessing and understanding the impact of whale watching on whale communities both large and small.

“…I am delighted to attend this important international workshop and contribute some of the momentum we have achieved over the past nine years with Whale Watch West Cork through the development of species specific codes of conduct. With whale watching becoming an increasingly important and unique tourism attraction off the south coast of Ireland, it is imperative to draw on the expertise of others around the globe. This will ensure we develop a workable framework for best practice down to the species level that may be applied as a benchmark for those developing whale watching operations for the first time…” Dr Slocum said.

About Whale Watch West Cork

Whale Watch West Cork is dedicated to providing our customers with a safe, comfortable and educational whale and dolphin watching experience. We seek to impart detailed knowledge on the marine mammals and other wildlife we encounter and on the wider issues of marine conservation through informed commentary with special emphasis on the current threats facing these unique animals and their fragile environment.


About Planet Whale

Planet Whale is the global community that will change the way we view whales and dolphins forever. By harnessing the passion and ideas of individuals, we will achieve more to protect and defend our oceans than ever before.


About the IWC

The International Whaling Commission is an Inter-Governmental Organisation tasked with the conservation of whales and the management of whaling. It is set up under the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling signed in 1946. The Commission has a current membership of 89 Governments from countries around the World.