16 November 2018

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.



  1. I found this very interesting.. can't wait to come and enjoy a bit of whale watching with you. This is a new interest for us.. we have been in Ireland for 14 months and saw my first basking shark just a few yards off Ballycotton pier early "summer" – I first spotted a V shaped bow wave at a distance of some 50 metres which caught my attention and as it moved in towards the wall- as the wave got closer I saw the shape of a large basking shark which hung a left and passed directly in front of me.. I was as thrilled as if I'd won the lottery! Can't wait to see more lovely sea creatures.. you can hardly count Fungi at Dingle which is my only other "sighting!"

  2. Nic Slocum says:

    Hi. Come out with us during late October/early November when the big Fin Whales move inshore to feed. We are getting increasing numbers of reports of them being sighted further inshore each week. Latest report was of five animals southeast of The Galley Head. Keep an eye on the blog for news.

  3. This reply is for "Anonymous of the 19/09/09". My wife and I started visiting Ireland some years ago. We always make a point of going out with Nic. I cannot describe my feeling EACH time I see a whale (fins and minke), dolphins. To have been up close to basking sharks,sunfish, seals etc is just "magic".
    Enjoy the trips and keep your eyes open at all times.

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