Whale Watching in Ireland

Whale watching in Ireland and whale watching in West Cork in particular has now reached a high point for whale and dolphin watching enthusiasts the world over. The Irish government declared the coastal waters of Ireland a whale and dolphin sanctuary during the early 1990's. The first of its kind in Europe, this paved the way for whale watching in Ireland to become a prime activity for the many visitors to this country. Coastal waters off the southwest of Ireland are a summer feeding ground for a number of whale species and a year round home for several resident dolphin species including the Harbour Porpoise. Baleen Whales commonly seen off the south coast include Fin Whales and Minke Whales, which makes whale watching in Ireland some of the best whale watching in Europe. Humpback whales are also seen off the southwest coast. These large marine mammals feed in Irish waters for over seven months of the year on a variety of small shoaling fish and may be seen just a few kilometers offshore.

Irish Whale Watching

To date 24 species of the world's whales and dolphins have been recorded in Irish waters. In recent years over 12 cetacean species have been seen in the clear, unpolluted West Cork waters making them one of the richest areas for whale and dolphin watching in Ireland. Irish whale watching has definitely taken off in West Cork with wide species diversity present for over half the year. Minke Whales arrive off our coast starting in March. Fin Whales traditionally arrive in the late summer/early autumn. Both species continue through to the early winter months, providing some spectacular opportunities to view these large marine mammals only a few kilometers from the coast if the sea conditions are suitable. The less predictable Humpback Whales traditionally arrive during autumn months. Other species that may be seen off West Cork are listed below. Whale Watch West Cork is acutely aware of the benefits that whale watching can bring to coastal communities when conducted according to a strict code of conduct and is committed to the sustainable development of Irish whale watching whilst maximizing the educational advantages to the public but above all, ensuring the positive impact on the conservation status of the whales and dolphins of Ireland.

Summary Schedule

  • March to May - Risso's Dolphins
  • March to November - Minke Whales
  • April to July - Basking Sharks
  • July to August - Atlantic Sunfish
  • August to December - Common Dolphins
  • September to December - Fin Whales
  • November to January - Humpback Whales

Other species of dolphins like the Atlantic white sided, the white beaked, the long finned pilot whale and the killer whale are seen less frequently.

Please remember that these timings can vary year on year as these animals are wild and free living and we cannot always predict or influence their migration patterns or feeding behaviour and sometimes they are not present in the areas we would expect them to be in. This means that it is possible to go out and not see whales or dolphins.

Whale Watching in West Cork Ireland

Although sightings of these large Baleen Whales is the highpoint of any whale watching in West Cork we must not loose sight of the fact that West Cork plays host to resident populations of Common Dolphins and Harbour Porpoises which may be present in considerable numbers as they move inshore during the summer months. In addition, there are frequent sightings of other dolphin species at different times throughout the year including Bottlenose Dolphins and Risso's Dolphins. There are some opportunistic sightings of Killer Whales (Orca), Long-finned Pilot Whales, White Beaked Dolphins and Atlantic White Sided Dolphins. Other marine mammals in Ireland that are regularly sighted on our wildlife boat tours include Seals. Seals in Ireland comprise the two species, the Atlantic Grey Seal and the Common Seal. More about Seals in Ireland.


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