Blasket Islands Eco Marine Tours specialises in whale and dolphin watching but it is always a pleasure for us to have birders on board and to do more specialised birding trips because both whales and dolphins can be elusive and hard to find but we find that there is rarely a boat trip we take where we do not see some interesting bird life.
Puffins are top of the priority list for birders who come to Kerry for their bird watching holidays. You can view rafts of them on the water on the outer Blaskets on our afternoon guided eco marine tour departing from Ventry Harbour at 1300hrs and returning at 1700hrs. They are one of our earliest birds to migrate, migrating back to sea at the end of July, so come early in the season and don’t be disappointed!
Gannets are one of the most majestic and spectacular of our seabirds and Little Skellig rock, across Dingle Bay from the Blasket Islands, is home to one of the largest gannetries in Europe with approx. 30,000 breeding pairs. We are likely to see them on any of our tours from Ventry Harbour and are always on the lookout for “bird clouds” of gannets plummeting vertically from the sky on shoals of fish which often indicate to us the presence of dolphins and Minke whales.
Manx Shearwaters and Storm Petrels:
The Blasket Islands hold the largest populations of breeding European storm petrels in the world.
Manx shearwaters come all the way from Brazil and Uruguay to breed around the outer Blasket Islands. For people interested in birding and catching sight of rare birds they are a beautiful bird to see in flight on the open sea as they shear the water alternatively showing their dark top and white under side. They only come back to their nest sites at night, trying to avoid predation from their main enemy which is the Great black backed gull. Because of their set back feet they are unable to walk properly on land [they are born aviators] and the native Irish red deer present on Inishvickillaun also supplement their diet with them! Later in the season we see sooty shearwaters and occasionally the rare Balearic shearwater.
Evening / Night Time Bird watching Safari [June/July. 8pm to 2am]
Skipper Mick with a storm petrel on coach roof off Inishvickillaun
By special arrangement, usually with a minimum / maximum of 6 / 12 people we can arrange an evening / night time bird watching safari for the three main species best viewed in the evening and nightime ie puffins, Manx shearwaters and storm petrels. As the long summer evening closes in around Inishvickillaun and Inish na Bró you can watch the puffins standing in pairs outside their burrows. As night falls all is quiet and then in the dark you hear the slight sound of birds alighting on the deck or coach roof attracted by the anchor light or deck lights - storm petrels slightly distracted by the lights on their way back to their homes in the dry stone walls scattered around the islands.
Later still there are the loud calls of the Manx shearwaters returning and loquaciously trying to locate their chicks. Even though it is summer time you will have to be properly dressed for this night time bird watching trip as it will be after 12 midnight before the storm petrels and Manx shearwaters have come in and after that we still have a couple of hours before we get back to our own base in Ventry Harbour.
A small raft of puffins off Inish na Bró one of the Blasket islands
Gannet from Skellig rock across Dingle Bay, one of the largest gannetries in Europe
Razorbills and Guillemots - expert deepsea divers
Guillemots [common and black], razorbills, cormorants, shags, fulmer petels, kittiwakes, oystercatchers, skuas, choughs, wheatears, peregrines.....
Apart from the land birds we see all of the above birds on a regular basis and we also moor off the Great Blasket island as part of our afternoon guided Eco Marine Tour and you may get a chance to see some ravens and choughs there oor even occasionally a pair of peregrine falcons. The rent formerly paid by the Ferriters to the Earl of Desmond for the Blaskets was a pair of peregrine falcons from Inish Tuaisceart [Northern island] or more commonly known as "The Sleeping Giant" or "The Dead Man"
For a complete bird watch tour of the Blasket islands and Dingle Bay you should join the all day tour departing from Ventry Harbour at 1000hrs and which includes a 3 hr stay on the Great Blasket island.
Our most valued and delicate summer visitor is the Arctic tern which formerly nested in some abundance on Beginish island [about 150 pairs] but because of degradation of habitat by dogs and other animal and human movement on this little island [which is an SPA] both during the summer for the Arctic terns and by over grazing by sheep during the winter for the Greenland white fronted geese who formerly overwintered here, the terns have now moved to a more isolated offshore rock where they are trying to establish a foothold.
The Artic Tern - will defend their nests ferociously. Holds the world record for length of migration.
This little sea swallow migrates a greater distance than any other bird in the world [including the bar tailed godwit] and the fact that its habitat on Beginish,one of the Blasket islands, which is a SPA, cannot be protected is an indication of how fragile our ecosystem is and how badly it needs to be protected.
All of the Blasket Islands are an E.U. designated S.P.A. [ Special Protected Area ] for birds under the E.U. Habitats and Wildlife Directive and Natura 2000 with special reference to Annex 1 and Annex 2 birds European storm petrels, Manx shearwaters, Arctic terns and Greenland white fronted geese.
They contain major seabird populations of international importance, especially for European storm petrels and Manx shearwaters [pelagic species who only visit their nest sites nocturnally]. Inishvickillaun, Inish na Bró and Tiaracht have summer breeding populations of puffins – most peoples favourite bird – and Beginish is home to up to 200 breeding Arctic terns, sometimes called the sea swallow, who migrates a greater distance than any other bird in the world. When they leaves Beginish at the end of summer they fly down the west coast of Africa then south of South Africa towards the Antarctic, where they get blown around the bottom of the world in the storm force westerlies and then comes back up the east coast of South America to visit and breed on Beginish the following summer.
Beginish was also home to a wintering flock of about 200 Greenland white fronted geese [an Annex 1 bird in the E.U.Directive] and an iconic bird for bird watchers and the logo for Birdwatch Ireland c.f.www.birdwatchireland.ie ] but unfortunately, despite the fact that Beginish is an E.U. designated S.P.A. the habitat has been degraded for the last number of years and insufficient grass is left there for them to forage in the winter.
Diving gannets are often a feature of our tours and people are usually fascinated as they watch them dive or “fall” from over 100ft into the water in a feeding frenzy .One of the biggest gannetries in the North Atlantic is across the bay on Little Skellig which lies beside Skellig Michael [Scelig Míchíl] on top of which is perched a monastic settlement which is a World Heritage Site and the Irish equivalent of Macho Pico in serenity and location.
There are rafts of puffins to be seen back by the Inish and various other members of the Auk family including the common and black guillemot and the razorbill. You can see Manx shearwaters usually flying through the Black Sound and also fulmar petrels by Inishvickillaun, who are relatives of the albatross. Kittiwakes are one of our daintiest seabirds and you can see rows of shags standing on the rocks, often with wings outstretched drying their wings, which have no waterproofing oil.
Later in the summer you can see many more migrating seabirds such as sooty shearwaters, Arctic skua, great skua or “Boxie”, phalaropes and various petrels.
From the moorings on the Great Blasket Island you can hear the shrill call of the oyster catchers and also see ravens [who like to fly upside down sometimes just for the fun of it] and choughs, with their beautiful dark red bills and legs, gliding along the cliffs and occasionally catch sight of a peregrine falcon.
We hope that some of the white tailed sea eagles reintroduced to Muckross National Park, Killarney, Co. Kerry will eventually make their way to the Blaskets and add to the rich diversity of wildlife there.
We can arrange special early morning bird watching trips for small groups as this is the best time to see them flocking and in rafts on the water.
We also arrange special [12hrs] offshore pelagic bird watching trips in late summer [mid August onwards] to the continental shelf edge for interested parties by special arrangement who want to see the rare birds migrating along the shelf edge. You also have a good chance to see big whales on one of these specially arranged trips. Please email for further info.
The Blasket Islands are the grey seal capital of Ireland [probably more than on the Inishkea Islands, Co. Mayo] and seals come from as far away as Scotland and the British Isles to breed around the Blaskets in late summer and early Autumn and stay for the winter and into early summer.
Most then disperse but for the last few years a resident population has stayed around the Blaskets.
The Great Blasket Island is an E.U. designated S.A.C. [ Special Area of Conservation] with special reference to grey seals, sea caves and upland heath.
During the winter up to 1000 seals can be seen hauled up on the White Strand – An Trá Bán – and in late Sept. / Oct. all the coves and gravel beaches on Beginish are full of white furry seal pups and their mothers.
Each bull seal has his own herd and unsuccessful bachelor seals haul out together at different locations. On most of our trips during the summer we can more or less guarantee to show you grey seals, and once they become used to the movement of our boat and we stay a distance away from them, you can view them as they stretch back on their favourite rocks and scratch their bellies!
They are also fascinating to watch as they bob around in the water looking at you with their big brown eyes.
Some people say they are the original animal which gave rise to the idea of a mermaid and there is an old tradition in many maritime areas especially in Scotland [where some of our seals come from] that they are the reincarnation of fishermen lost at sea and they are called “silkies”.
When the islands were inhabited seals were hunted for their skins and meat, but in particular for oil obtained from the thick blubber under their skins which was used for simple lights by inserting a wick or rush into an oil filled jug, and the oil was also reputed to be good as a rub for rheumatism and even as “sauce” on potatoes.
Now that we have electricity and tomato sauce the seal population is thrivin
Dolphins, dolphins, dolphins…..everywhere!.........and then some other days there are no dolphins to be seen on our tour.
Unlike Fungi, the world famous bottlenose Dingle dolphin, we cannot guarantee to show you dolphins every day but on some days we are lucky to encounter some of Fungi’s country cousins around the Blaskets and we are also often accompanied by schools of common dolphins bow riding the boat and we are also lucky to have a semi resident school of Risso’s dolphins who usually hang out by Inish na Bró and Tiaracht islands.
When people hear of Dingle, [An Daingean], Co. Kerry, they often think of Fungi the famous bottlenose dolphin who has taken up residence voluntarily at the entrance to Dingle Harbour for the last 25 years. We don’t do trips to see Fungi [you go from Dingle pier] but we sometimes encounter visiting bottlenose dolphins in Ventry, Dingle Bay and around the Blaskets. They are the most acrobatic of dolphins and love to put on a show and interact with people and boats, before going off about their own business. We subscribe to a code of practice when in company with whales, dolphins or basking shark but Bottlenose dolphins nearly always break the rules themselves. Maybe they know something we don’t!
Also known as Grampus, we often encounter a small family group of this relatively rare dolphin. At about 4 metres in length for the adult members, like the bottlenose dolphin they are relatively big. They don’t interact as much with boats as bottlenose or common dolphins and have a unique pale grey and scarred appearance. Some of the older animals are almost pure white.
Our favourite dolphins and the ones most frequently encountered on our trips. They are one of our smallest dolphins at about 2 metres and also the fastest, and love to power ride alongside the boat and also to bow ride.
Watch out for a “bird cloud” of gannets in the distance dropping like snowflakes from the sky into a shoal of sprat or mackerel and there is a good chance that it is common dolphins that are bringing them to the surface.
Sing out and let the skipper and / or guide know that you have seen something jumping in the distance!
Basking sharks are not marine mammals like whales, dolphins and porpoises [cetaceans] but large fish, though in terms of excitement when we come up close to them on our eco tours they easily equal them and are always a big hit with the kids [and the adults]. We spot them when they cruise on the surface of the water, their enormous mouths wide open as they filter the water for plankton.
They are the biggest fish in the North Atlantic and the second biggest fish in the world, after the whale shark, and you can see a sizable number of the world population [40,000] around the Blaskets during the summer, especially early summer when water temp. is about 12 degrees C.
It is hard to believe that, like whales, these beautiful big creatures, sometimes up to 12 metres in length, were almost hunted to extinction for the oil in their liver which is 1/3 their body weight and might weigh in at a few ton and give 30 or 40 barrels of oil.
They are also still hunted, mostly by Japanese [like whales] and Koreans but also by some European nations [illegally as there is now E.U. wide prohibition against fishing for shark or landing as by-catch] for their dorsal fin in order to make shark fin soup.
The Irish word for basking shark is Ainmhí Sheoil – the beast with the sail – and there is also a place name on the south side of the Great Blasket Island where shoals congregate called Gleann na bPéist [Valley or Glen of the Sea Serpent]. When you see dorsal and tail fins of a group of basking shark they are not dissimilar to a long twisting sea serpent.
But, you read it here, we can not guarantee to show you Sea Serpents – at least not on every trip!
Please be aware that there are days when we don’t see whales, dolphins or shark but there is always the beautiful scenery of the Dingle Peninsula and if you are well wrapped up and warm [Skipper Mick sells lovely woolly hats on board] look around you at the beautiful seascapes and landscapes and enjoy life on the ocean billow with us!
Yes, there are whales around the Blaskets and in Dingle Bay.
No, they are not there all the time and sometimes they are as hard to find as hens teeth or leprechauns!
The main whales we encounter around the Blaskets are;
A small sized whale up to 10 metres in length that is more or less resident in varying degrees all year round. Relatively unspectacular with a couple of slow rolls just showing the top of the back and the dorsal fin. But a feature of 2010 season was the number of times we saw minke whales breaching [ about 4 different occasions and different locations] and caught it once on video – type in- wildblasket- on www.youtube.com .
2010 was disappointing for sightings of humpback whales, apart from some seen far offshore at the latter end of the season by telescope from Slea Head but conditions were not suitable for going out.
In 2009 we had a humpback resident for three days in Dingle Bay, just one hours steaming from Ventry Harbour and a few miles north of Valentia Island,Co. Kerry. The best chance to see them is in late August, September and October. An adult grows to about 15 metres in length.
Again mostly viewed from the shore with telescope travelling north of Sybil Head and Inish Tuaisceart, or south-west of Foze rocks and Inishvickilaun at end of season, Sept/Oct. and conditions are not always suitable for going out. Better chance to see them on [12hrs] offshore pelagic trips to continental shelf edge, in calm weather, where we also have chance to see pilot whales and hopefully some day blue whales which are known to traverse these deep offshore waters. Fin whales are smaller than blue whales, the biggest animal ever to live on the earth, but they still grow to about 22 metres in length.
These trips are by special arrangement and preferably with small group.
12 hours in a [relatively] small boat on the open ocean can be trying, so make sure you are up for the trip before you make this booking.
Our normal inshore trips are of 2 ½ and 3 ½ hrs duration.
In 2010 we spotted two killer whales just a few miles south of Skelligs and they stayed with us for about half an hour. They are always a bonus to see and always spectacular. Other sightings have been off Sybil Head, south of Great Blasket and in Blasket Sound. They usually don’t hang about and are on passage and can be seen at various times of the year.
They grow up to 10 metres in length
At 2 metres adult length the harbour Porpoise is our smallest cetacean and smaller than an adult common dolphin. They are quite numerous and the seas surrounding the Blasket Islands are an E.U. Designated marine S.A.C. [Special Area of Conservation] with special reference to Harbour Porpoises. Unlike dolphins, for which they are often mistaken, they are shy and avoid close contact or interaction with boats. Also you really need very calm water to spot them.
So join us on one of our trips and see if you can spot the difference between a porpoise and a dolphin!