12 November 2018

First Sunfish…


Joy of Joys…

It’s not like me to follow on with another post so soon…but I just have to tell you the Minke Whale watching yesterday was superb…

Several animals both sides of Cape Clear but away off near the Fastnet Rock and Lighthouse we encountered an animal feeding hard. Creating the characteristic huge display of Gannets and Shearwaters this large Minke Whale circled the boat creating a huge bait ball in the water, surfacing regularly with noisy blows and gasps of admiration from my customers on the boat.

Minke Whale watching at it very best. If the weather holds there may well be opportunities for more sightings like that…I am lost for words, not something you are used to!


Exceptional sightings for the time of year…

It is always with great expectations that we look at the first part of the season in terms of variety of sightings. The timing of when the animals move inshore to feed varies enormously and the weather conditions can influence our sightings considerably…

Well, for the past three weeks the weather and the sightings have not disappointed in the least and have been, quite frankly, superb. Direct sightings from the boat have included feeding Minke Whales, Basking Sharks, Bottlenose Dolphins and Harbour Porpoises. All species we would expect to see at this time of year. Sightings have been made from as far west as Crookhaven to Galley Head in the east. Lovely sightings of these iconic species in lovely sea conditions.

Although we were “not in the right place at the right time” a Killer Whale was reported by the Cape Ferry as recently as yesterday moving east through the Gascanane Sound. With this being a rare sighting in these southern waters it causes great excitement among the whale watching and non whale watching population equally. The day before we had a group of Bottlenose Dolphins right in the harbour at Baltimore! We have not yet sighted “our” lone Bottlenose Dolphin that we have recorded along this stretch of coast annually now for the past five years…keep you posted.

With the considerable influx of Jellyfish these past 10 days we are expecting that great oceanic wanderer, the Sunfish any day now. Rest assured, we will report as soon as we have a confirmed sighting.

Our move to Baltimore has proved an enormous success. With passenger safety and comfort uppermost in our thoughts, the steps and easy access at Baltimore have made it possible to board many customers this year (and last year) who have some difficulty in movement, something just not possible with the closure of part of Union Hall Pier on safety grounds and the increasingly decrepit state of Reen Pier and the ancient boarding ladder there. With the planned improvements nearing completion at Baltimore, along with wheelchair access, the amenities for the many customers of Whale Watch West Cork can only get better. There is a move afoot to extend the old pier at Baltimore yet further which, along with the excellent places to get a snack or coffee or stay in the village, is fast making BALTIMORE HARBOUR  the whale watching capital of West Cork.

More anon…


Excellent sightings…last 10 days

Good weather conditions and excellent sightings off West Cork herald the start of an action packed season of wildlife sightings.

Bird sightings inshore these past six weeks have been stunning with rafts of razorbills, guillemots and occasional puffins delighting customers young and old. For pure showmanship the gannet steals the avian show with their jaw dropping dives from as high as 100ft into the water – and we have had many exhibitions of this marvel of nature during the past weeks.

We all wait with baited breath for the first basking sharks to arrive during late April and early May. We have not been disappointed this year. From early sightings in Roaringwater Bay we have had some wonderful encounters with large aggregations around Capre Clear, as far west as Crookhaven and east as far as the Galley Head and beyond with many more sightings being phoned in to Whale Watch West Cork by our wide circle of associates and friends along the coast. With warm and sunny weather predicted for the coming couple of weeks we hope these leviathans of the deep, the second largest fish in the world behind the whale shark, will continue to grace our shores well into May. One of the delights of basking shark sightings, especially when encountered in larger groups, are the spectacular leaps or breaches they make out of the water returning their huge bulk to the water with an enormous splash reminiscent of a depth charge going off. This unusual behaviour can be witnessed quite regularly off West Cork among the smaller animals and those reaching lengths in excess of 7 metres.

Talking of breaching. Early minke whale sightings have created some eye opening moments with a single animal breaching in Barlogue Bay and in Baltimore Bay. We encountered this animal in rather brisk conditions around 10 days ago when it breached no more than 40 feet in front of the boat quite unexpectedly following our observations of gannet diving activity in the bay. Later that week it was reported to us of an animal breaching further east along the coast no more than 100 metres from the shoreline and easily visible from the land. It is a lovely sight and one that was not particularly in evidence last year.

Porpoise activity, always a little subdued during the early months, is on the increase. Once the animals start to congergate in larger “family” groups then sighting take on a new dimension. We have had some lovely group encounters with this shy cetacean, Ireland’s smallest whale, during the last few days. Memories of last year’s encounters in the Gascanane Sound and further east off the Stag Rocks and The Galley Head still come back and we hope for similar sighting opportunities this year.

As we move through May we look forward to some of the “firsts” for the year. The first sunfish which were seen by us so early last year and the first to be recorded by us, of breaching behaviour in sunfish. This unique behaviour was seen on two separate occasions but not captured on film alas.

The first common dolphins always bring a surge of joy to even the most hardened hearts. Their playful behaviour, cheesy grin and obvious joie de vivre inspire us all. Although we do encounter groups in the months before July it is the later summer build ups that we look forward to where groups of animals in excess of 150 animals may be regularly encountered.

The mighty fin whale we await in eager anticipation…but we usually have to wait to the closing months of the year for these whales, the second largest on earth.

…’til then I will keep you all posted with details as the season unfolds.


Minke Whale activity on the increase…

Day before yesterday we observed a minke whale south of Rabbit Island followed by a surfacing animal east of Adam Island…possibly the same animal. Travelling and not attracting much bird activity we are looking forward to some settled weather and with lots of visitors about are getting out on the water regularly.

Out and about south of the Kedges yesterday we had a breaching minke whale. A young animal that was attracting a bit of gannet activity. There was a brisk breeze blowing from the notheast which was creating a lumpy, short sea but we saw this animal surface around 40 metres in front of the boat followed shortly afterwards by a single breach well out of the water…and a large splash on re-entry.

With a lot of “feed” showing on the echosounder we are hoping this activity may continue for a few days yet in Baltimore Bay…more blog to come after today.


Great Sightings in April…

April is traditionally a quiet month for cetacean sightings off West Cork as we wait for thr waters to warm and the plankton to bloom and rise in the water column…

This April however, has proved the exception. Although the waters off West Cork remain cold sightings that have been reported by us and others this month have included killer whales, pilot whales, first minke whales of the season, bottlenose dolphins, harbour porpoise and basking sharks.

This lovely spectrum of species has culminated in basking sharks off The Kedges last weekend and bottlenose dolphins feeding in Squince Harbour yesterday morning and excellent harbour porpoise activity between Sherkin Island and Cape Clear.

Other fantastic and early sightings have been had to feeding gannets, Manx shearwaters, fulmars, razorbills and both species of guillemot. Lovely wildlife activity for so early in the season supported by some fabulous sunny and fine weather West Cork has yet again proved a mecca for the marine wildlife enthusiast from both Ireland and Europe.

Hopefully this early flush of activity is a harbinger of things to come. We look forward to a fine summer, warm seas, a wide variety of species. With Voyager operating since the beginning of April we are all looking forward to a great season…can’t wait.


Sea Shepherd is a Fundamentalist Darwinist Anti-God Organization?

Sea Shepherd and Captain Paul Watson are no strangers to controversy and the fall out from the apalling act of irresponsibility conducted by the Japanese whaling fleet when they deliberately rammed and sunk the anti whaling Sea Shepherd boat, Ady Gill, continues…

The latest bout of misleading, poorly written commentary to be published over The Christian Newswire, an organisation claiming to be the most respected organisation of its type, opens the article…

“…Last week’s clash between the Japanese whaling ship, the ‘Shonan Maru’ and the ‘Ady Gil’, a vessel owned and manned by the eco-terrorist group Sea Shepherd, highlights an animal rights battle that was launched when Charles Darwin visited the Galapagos Islands in 1835 — a theme explored in detail on a featurette of ‘The Mysterious Islands’, a newly-released documentary that debunks the conclusions Darwin reached during his famous voyage of the Beagle. The featurette — entitled ‘The Galapagos Whaling Controversy: A Christian Perspective’ — takes environmental groups such as Sea Shepherd, Greenpeace, and PETA head on, and shows how their anti-hunting and worshipful view of animals flows directly from Darwin’s theory of evolution…”

This nonsensical claptrap continues throughout the piece…

True to form Paul Watson counters some of the comments made in the article with his characteristic firebrand style of clear thinking mixed with humour…the following is just one of his comments…

“…It turns out you see that the only reason we [Sea Shepherd] are down here in the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary protecting whales is because we are fundamentalist extremist disciples of Charles Darwin. Yes sir, Charles Darwin is to blame for this mess because he started people down the road of thinking for themselves, instead of blindly following the dictates and guidance of a silly over-rated book written by a gang of chauvinistic sheep herding thugs in the desert a few thousand years ago…”

The whole debate may be read here

The Christian Newswire article may be read here


Humpback Whales off Wexford Coast…

During the closing stages of last week we received reports of Humpback Whale sightings off the Wexford coast…

…since that time confirmed sightings have been made by observers of a number of Humpback Whales off the County Wexford coast indulging in what is a fairly common behavioural activity for this species – launching themselves high out of the water in spectacular breaches, returning to the water with an enormous splash.

Both in 2009 and in 2004 when we had significant numbers of Humpbacks off the southwest coast, we encountered breaching animals. The charismatic Humpback Whales is one of only two species of baleen whales in Irish waters which may be encountered regularly breaching, the other being the much smaller Minke Whale.

One of the many questions we have fielded during the last two days has been “where have these animals come from and where are they going”. Whilst the migratory patterns of Humpback Whales in the eastern Atlantic remain the subject of much conjecture some information is well documented…

The migratory patterns of large baleen whales in the northern hemisphere cover lesser distances than those same species in the southern hemisphere. However, the Humpback Whale may be the one exception to that rule. Well studied, large Humpback Whale populations off the eastern seaboard of the United States, demonstrate migrations that see individuals travelling from Greenland to the Dominican Republic every year to calve and mate, returning to northern climes to feed in the nutrient rich waters off Greenland and the Denmark Straight.

Humpback populations in the eastern Atlantic are much smaller and are believed to travel between Icelandic and Norwegian waters and Greenland and traditional breeding grounds around The Cape Verde Islands, off the west African coast. The number of animals observed at any one time around the Cape Verde Islands however, number far less than the estimated total population of Humpbacks in north eastern Atlantic waters leading some observers to believe that some members of this population travelled across the Atlantic diagonally to the waters around the Dominican Republic. This is supported by the finding that an individual first identified in the Denmark Straight was identified nearly 18 years later in the waters of the Cape Verde Islands suggesting some “diagonal” west – east migration does occur. It is reasonable to assume that east – west “diagonal” movement occurs as well.

Given that concentrated Humpback activity is not a year round phenomenon off any part of the Irish coastline it is reasonable to assume that these individuals off Wexford are part of a general north – south migratory movement of Humpback Whales that occurs during the winter months opportunistically feeding on seasonal Herring spawning aggregations that occur of the southeast corner of Ireland during the winter months.

To be sure we would need clear photo identification showing animals off Wexford were the same individuals seen in both north east Atlantic waters and around the Cape Verde Islands. So far that type of conclusive evidence is not available.


Japanese Whalers employ dangerous tactics…

In an unprecedented attack on one of the Sea Shepherd vessels monitoring their illegal whaling activities in the Southern Ocean the Japanese whale catcher boat Shonan Maru No 2 rammed the much smaller Ady Gil causing extensive damage to the vessel and seriously endangering the crew.

This reckless endangerment of life on the high seas by the Japanese whaling vessel Shonan Maru should attract nothing short of international condemnation and censorship and international communities should demand an apology, reparations to repair/replace the seriously damaged craft and the captain and crew of the Japanese vessel responsible for the ramming should face criminal charges.

To watch the video of this blatant act click here


Copenhagen – failure and fudge

A huge opportunity has been lost and the leaders of the free world should resign in disgrace at the pathetically weak and unenforceable “agreement” reached at the climate summit in Copenhagen last week. Unless nation states take it upon themselves to curb CO2 emissions over the next decade we are consigning our children to a legacy of climate change disasters that will seriously impact their way of life if not their very wellbeing. Characterised by shambolic organisation on the part of the host nation Denmark, world leaders have attempted to dress the conference up as a model of global cooperation whereas it is in fact a failure that will do little to reduce the exponential rise in atmospheric CO2 that we are currently experiencing and has set us on track to levels as high a 700 parts per million by the end of the century.

Great news on the NEW Swansea – Cork ferry service

We are pleased to announce that Fastnet Line’s online booking system and pricing is now available on our website www.fastnetline.com.

The Swansea to Cork service will commence on March 1st 2010, sailing from Cork to Swansea, departing at 21:00 arriving in Swansea at 07:00 the next morning. See the website for the full schedule.

Special Opening Offer – Kids Travel FREE on Fastnet Line !!
That’s right – simply book at least one adult ticket with vehicle for travel during 2010
- and up to three children can travel with you absolutely free!
Bookings must be made before 1st April 2010, children must be under 16 on the date of travel, excludes cabin.

If you need further information or have any queries, please check our FAQ or email Catherine at info@fastnetline.com.


One of my great delights…

Nothing really beats being out on the water and seeing cetaceans of all sorts in their environment going about their daily business. From the smallest and humblest of Harbour Porpoises to the mighty Fin Whales, all are an absolute delight to encounter and give great pleasure to our many customers, many of whom rarely have much opportunity to get out on the water and enjoy marine life as we do.

There is however, one sighting scenario that always creates a crescendo of excitement in me and the family. That is, sightings from the observatory up here on top of our hill overlooking the islands Adam, Rabbit, High, Low and Horse. With 180 degree view from The Toe Head in the west to The Galley Head in the east we have a commanding view of Castlehaven and Rosscarbery Bays and 12-15 miles out to sea given our elevation.

We have been getting out every day of this fine weather over the last 14 days but of an evening while the light lasts I settle into “my” chair with a good pair of binoculars and perhaps a glass of red wine and scan the seas from east to west and to the south…

…a patch of birds catches the eye. Sitting on the water. Are they Gulls or Gannets? Gannets. Perhaps there was some feeding earlier that I missed. No. There are a few still diving further west. The diving stops but these harbingers of cetacean activity are still milling around. Is it Harbour Porpoises? Possibly a Minke Whale? Suddenly, as if orchestrated by some unseen deep sea conductor, the surface of the sea boils and Common Dolphins erupt into the air with an exuberance and Joie de Vivre so typical of these charismatic little toothed whales. Barrelling along these animals can reach speeds in excess of 20 mph only to disappear again as if the power has been switched off, surfacing again a few moments later . They are in hunting mode as they cooperatively pursue the pelagic fish species that make up their diet in these inshore waters. Sightings of Common Dolphins these past few weeks have been excellent both from the boat and from land in groups varying in size from a dozen animals up to 100-120 animals. Sightings of the Harbour Porpoise from land this season have been down on our previous annual records but as regular readers of my blog will know this year has seen some unusual and spectacular encounters with this attractive little toothed whale from the boat. Groups as well as adult and calf pairs.

Perhaps the most evocative of sights when scanning the ocean for cetacean acivity is that of the blow of that leviathan of West Cork’s waters, the mighty Fin Whale. A 20 foot high eruption of vapour and spray in the field of view heralds the arrival of these annual visitors, the second largest baleen whale in the world and the hope that they will settle to feed as in previous years. Both from personal observastions during the past three weeks and conversations with colleagues from Youghal to Baltimore we have yet to have any meaningful movement of Fin Whales into West Cork’s waters although we have “encountered” them both from the land and from the boat already. Several encounters have been recorded offshore and sent into Whale Watch West Cork by Fishermen and Yacht delivery crews including one stunning report of a group of Humpback’s in The Irish Sea.

We will blog the news as reliable reports build of further Fin Whale sightings off West Cork.


Cetacean sightings superb off West Cork…

Sightings off West Cork these past 10 days have been nothing short of superb with a cross section of species from Fin Whales to Minke Whales, Common Dolphins to Harbour Porpoises, a Basking Shark and a suspected Striped Dolphin amongst a small group of Common Dolphins.

From the Seven Heads to The Mizen Head we have been running tours every day during the prolonged fine weather spell we have been enjoying. Highlights have included:

Our first confirmed inshore sightings of Fin Whales. Three animals around five miles south of The Stag Rocks. Showing no evidence of feeding these greyhounds of the sea were travelling at some speed with their huge columnar blows visible long after our first encounter as they travelled east.

Some lovely Minke Whale activity southwest of The Mizen Head. Up to three animals feeding amidst Gannets, Manx Shearwaters, Kittiwakes and assorted gulls. One very large animal got our hearts pumping as we, for one fleeting moment, thought we had a Fin Whale amongst the action. With The Sheep’s Head and Beara Peninsular as a backdrop these have been some of the more memorable Minke Whales sightings so far this year.

We continue to have some stunning encounters with Harbour Porpoises. These diminutive toothed whales, considered shy and retiring, have enchanted our visitors by swimming around the boat and creating much bird activity above boistrous feeding bouts.

Several encounters with Common Dolphins from Cape Clear to The Galley Head in varying group sizes. Some with very young animals in the group, others mainly adults and sub adults. Around 120 animals encountered in Baltimore Bay recently with 45/50 animals in one discrete group in Rosscarbery Bay only yesterday and generating much interest from a large flock of Gannets.

Perhaps the most memorable encounter was with a lone Basking Shark in Rosscarbery Bay this week. This is the latest I have ever encountered a Basking Shark in the waters off West Cork. Usually associated with earlier months when they rise to the surface while feeding on Phyto and Zooplankton high in the water column this enigmatic denizon of the deep caused much interest cruising amongst a group of Harbour Porpoises.


Sublime late summer sightings again…

Hard on the heels of my last blog we have had more sightings of the very young Minke Whale in Long Island Bay along with a group of 30/35 Common Dolphins off Cape Clear Island. Adolescents and adults feeding beneath clouds of Gannets.

Conscious of our impact on an entire feeding ecosystem our Code of Conduct has proved invaluable in limiting the time we spend with Common Dolphins that are feeding. Very well recieved by our customers our Code of Conduct allows for a interaction over clearly defined time period permitting animals to return to feeding activities, especially important when adolescents or young are present in the group.

Another report of five “large” whales producing blows spotted well south of The Galley Head and heading west. Almost certainly Fin Whales we eagerly await this species move inshore to feed.

Very animated behaviour from some large groups of Harbour Porpoises feeding and attracting the attention of large groups of Gannets has continued to enthrall our many customers. I’ll admit to having a soft spot for the humble Harbour Porpoise!


Lovely Weather. Lovely Sightings…

Well, summer arrived early September and sightings increased in proportion to the calmness of the seas. As with most of the later part of the summer sightings have revolved around the smaller cetacean species that visit West Cork’s waters. The smallest balleen whale to enter irish waters, the Minke Whale and the smallest toothed whales, the Harbour Porpoise and Common Dolphin being the mainstay of our regular Irish sighting reports to the prestigeous group, The Sea Watch Foundation.

In spite of big swells during August we had some of the best Minke Whale watching east of Sherkin Island that we have had this season. Nothing however, could surpass the past four days when a young Minke Whale and an adult (we presume is likely to be it’s mother) have provided some lovely sightings southwest of Calf Island West and southeast of Goat Island in Long Island Bay. Feeding beneath large clouds of Kittiwakes, assorted larger gulls, Gannets and Manx Shearwaters and amid rafts of Guillemots these attractive whale species have shown little concern for the boat, floating with engines off, sometimes only a matter of a few metres from the “action”. The young Minke we estimate to be between 12 and 15 feet long whereas the adult is closer to 28 or 30 feet long.

Lacking any overt charismatic behaviour I think I can safely say that our Harbour Porpoise sightings these past few weeks have been quite simply – stunning. This species largely shuns human activity, not really liking boats, engines or people. With care and understanding some very close encounters have been achieved. Drifting on the tide, with engines turned off, through the Gascanane Sound and off the Bill of Clear (Island) we have had feeding and foraging groups circling the boat and surfacing close to the boat. With their disproportionately loud “puff” when they surface to breath, it is easy to understand how they get their nickname throughout the Canadian Maritimes – Puffing Pigs! If you watch very carefully, small “blows” can frequently be seen when the sun catches these dimunutive whales as they surface. On one memorable occasion, while drifting in the entrance to Baltimore Harbour, an adult and calf circled the boat little more than three metres from the hull affording those keen photographers on board a unique opportunity for catching these pretty animals in pixels. Some of the best photographs of Harbour Porpoise I have ever seen have been taken from Voyager over the past few weeks.

Although sightings of Common Dolphins are declining slightly through the later part of September (not unusual) some memorable encounters have been had during August and early September. Predominantly encountered east of Cape Clear Island some lovely sightings have been made west of the island in Roaringwater Bay with some well to the north of the bay. These charismatic little cetaceans are popular with everyone. Frequently, but not always, interacting with the boat by bow riding and jumping, this species will often create a feeding frenzy of Gannets and sometimes Manx Shearwaters and assorted other bird species that rivals the “Attenboroughesque” wildlife spectacles we associate with other parts of the world. Quite, quite spellbinding as these small dolphins charge forward, line abreast, with 100 Gannets diving in close proximity. You half expect a Gannet to surface with a dolphin impailed on its formidable bill!

Joe O’Neill, local crab and lobster fisherman, has just phoned to report four Common Dolphins bow riding his boat southeast of The Stag Rocks. Thanks Joe, enjoy!

Basking Shark activity came to a close in July with only one sighting of a small animal during the last two weeks of the month but good Sunfish sightings continues right up to the end of August. Sometimes in groups of two/three fish. On two remarkable occasions a Sunfish breached clear of the water only metres from the boat. The first time we have EVER recorded this behaviour in this fish species in Ireland. Talking to other experts in this field it appears that it is a very rare occurence and we all felt priviledged to have witnessed these events. How, the strangely shaped Sunfish manage to propel themselves through the water at speeds resulting in them launching their entire body (up to four feet long) out of the water remains a mystery to me. The same could be said of Basking Sharks (the second largest fish in the world after whale sharks) of course, but we witness this behaviour regularly off West Cork in this large fish species.

Fin Whale sightings? Nothing too exciting to report yet. Several offshore reports (fishermen and yacht delivery skippers) came through to Whale Watch West Cork in July of animals well beyond the 30 mile limit to West Cork operator licenses. Two reports this week of animals well south of The Galley Head yesterday (about 12 miles) and another southwest of Fastnet Rock by around 10 miles this morning of “tall blows” would suggest Fin Whales.

The first good inshore sightings will be posted here you can rest assured…hopefully in the next couple of weeks. Watch this space.