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.


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.


Latest Sightings off West Cork

In spite of the recent bouts of unsettled weather we have had some lovely sightings between The Galley Head and Cape Clear over the last few weeks.

The Common Dolphins have moved inshore right on cue at the beginning of August and groups of up to 50 animals have provided us with some stunning viewing from the boat. Groups that have included some very young animals and adolescents which is very heartening to see. Feeding beneath huge clouds of Gannets, with Manx Shearwaters milling about on the surface, Guillemots and assorted Gulls make for a feeding spectacle of “Attenborough” like proportions – and just off West Cork!

Following some of the best Minke Whale watching so far this season only a few weeks ago these enigmatic denizons of the deep have been keeping us guessing. Around two/three animals have been patrolling Roaringwater Bay, the area southeast of Cape Clear and east of Sherkin Island providing good, if only rather fleeting sightings. August has never been considered the best time for Minke Whale watching anyway but we would have expected more activity as Cape Clear, The Brow Head and Roaringwater Bay are traditionally good areas for Minkes.

More unexpected has been the amazing sightings of Harbour Porpoises. The opposite to the boistrous and charismatic Common Dolphin these smallest of Ireland’s whales usually avoid close encounters with boats, people and engines. With engines off and drifting on the tide we had some stunning close encounters with groups of these small cetaceans where they have swum close by and under the boat apparently without regard for our presence, delighted our many customers. On one memorable encounter we came across a mother and tiny calf patrolling the harbour entrance off Baltimore. We stopped immediately and turned off our engines and unexpectedly this pair swum close around the boat within just a few metres. One keen photographer on board took some of the best pictures of Harbour Porpoises I have ever seen!

We have not received any more reports of Humpback Whales in the Irish Sea but a couple of further reports of Fin Whales offshore and off the UK coast take us back to the amazing viewing of these two species we had last autumn. Once the Fin Whales move inshore again, hopefully over the coming weeks, readers of this blog will be the first to hear.

My colleague Rory Jackson has reported more Bottlenose Dolphin activity off Cork Harbour and off The Tuskar Rock during yacht deliveries to and from Dublin. We have had our fair share on Bottlenose activity in and around Baltimore this season with around 14 animals in the harbour some weeks ago and a lone Bottlenose Dolphin encountered within the harbour only a couple of weeks ago. An animal that we have encountered along this coast several times over the past four years…always on it’s own though.

More anon as the season progresses…

Bottlenose Dolphin in Baltimore harbour

Stop press from Voyager out in Baltimore Harbour timed at 0950 on Sunday, 9th August 2009.

Lone Bottlenose dolphin patrolling harbour waters. This is an animal that has been observed from Voyager many times over the last four years and appears to be living a solitary life in the immediate area.

We would be grateful if all boat users in the Baltimore area would be mindful that this dolphin is in the vicinity.

More to follow later today…..

More Minkes…More Porpoises…

More of everything really…

Huge rafts and flocks of Manx Shearwaters all around Roaringwater Bay and the Islands, east to The Stags and south to The Fastnet. One of the key avian indicator species for Minke Whale activity at this time of the year…well they are doing their job!

The last few days has had some lovely Minke Whale sightings around “Cape” and in Long Island Bay well out towards The Fastnet Rock and Lighthouse and in Fastnet Sound. Although evidently feeding when they surface with throats distended they frequently attract little bird activity. They may be feeding very low in the water column resulting in the traditional “bait balls” at the surface not materialising. The Minke Whale is considered to have a wide range of fish species on which it feeds.

Very active porpoise groups in the area we patrol. This attractive but traditionally shy and retiring little whale entertained us all on one occasion last week by swimming under the boat (engines were off of course) giving us clear views of this cetacean swimming just under the surface of the water. Not often seen and a delight for all, adults and children alike.

Some lovely late Sunfish activity. We manoevered the boat upwind and up tide of a medium sized Sunfish last week and turned off the engines. It graced us by swimming alongside the boat and remained motionless in the water for several minutes before swimming off. With the sun behind us we had some stunning views of this unusual yet attractive mid-summer visitor to West Cork’s waters.

All this in spite of the bouts of unsettled weather that keep passing through…plenty of sunshine though and warm with it!


Another Great Minke Day…

Yet another day of great Minke Whale sightings. Right inside the Gascanane Sound. Lunge feeding but quite unusually NO BIRDS at all attracted.

There has been Minke Whale activity in and around the area of The Gascanane Sound and Sherkin’s south eastern “corner” for the last 10 days almost continuously.

Lovely feeding Harbour Porpoises in the ebbing Gascanane tide race this evening. Surgeing and breaching activity…very animated!


Sublimke Minke Whale Sightings off Sherkin Island…


Some of the best Minke Whale sightings this year off Sherkin Island. South East corner of the Island almost in the Gascanane Sound. Two animals lunge feeding and surfacing with mouths agape and throat pleats distended. All topped off by dramatic Harbour Porpoise encounters in much the same area. Dramatic sea conditions to enhance the experience…

Quite magical and it rarely gets any better than this.

No reliable inshore sightings of Fin Whales yet off West Cork but lots of reports being sent into Whale Watch West Cork of Fin Whales in groups offshore along with Humpbacks. Common Dolphin sightings on the increase, especially in the east of the county.

Will blog as soon as we have sightings of Fin Whales inshore to report.