At 18:59 hrs on 22nd July, 2011 as part of an extended evening tour of Blasket Islands Eco Marine Tours aboard our vessel "Blasket Princess" we had a magical encounter with a humpback whale between Inishvickillaun and Foze rocks, the most westerly of the Blaskets. Conor Ryan of IWDG was on board and as a result of the photo id of the tail fluke and a biopsy from a skin sample Conor took [under licence from NPWS] the animal was identified as a new animal in Irish waters with the Irish id. no. IRLHB17 i.e. the 17th identified humpback whale in Irish waters. However we christened him "Charlie" from the start as he was first identified off Inishvickillaun, the Blasket island home of the former Taoiseach [prime minister] Charlie Haughy who declared Irish waters a whale and dolphin sanctuary in the early 90's and whose vessel "Celtic Mist" was donated by the Haughy family to the IWDG for research purposes in his memory.
In recent weeks there has been quite a bit of humpback whale activity north of the Blaskets and Sybil Head as observed by Nick Masset who is basically conducting a one man research programme of the entire humpback whale population off the Blasket islands. Four animals have been observed on separate occassions and of those four IRLHB10, IRLHB15 and IRLHB17 are previous visitors to the Blaskets. IRLHB10 in 2009, 2011and 2012; IRLHB15 in 2011 and 2012 and IRLHB17 in 2011 and 2012. The very interesting thing about all this is that there still appears to be another animal in the "group" which has not been positively identified as some of these sightings have been from the shore and weather and sea conditions have not been suitable for close quarter boat id. shots.
On Friday 7th September, 2012 we had such a weather window and our afternoon tour north of Inish Tuaisceart [the most northerly of the Blasket Island group of islands] was rewarded with a plentifull and very playfull display of common dolphins and two humpback whales a couple of miles apart. For the next half hour or so the passengers and crew aboard "Blasket Princess" had superb views of humpback whale "Charlie" bubble netting and tail fluking a short distance from the boat as we hung off and the presence of the boat and Nick's rib didnt seem to bother him in the least and a couple of times he came very close to the idling boats. [By the way "he" is a "she" as identified by the DNA sample from the skin biopsy taken by Conor but when we christened him "Charlie" we didnt have the results of the DNA skin sample]
"Charlie" has quite an easily identifiable duck pattern on the right lobe of his tail fluke just as IRLHB10 has an easily identifiable hook on the left lobe of his tail fluke and obviously we have christened him "Hook" for easy and quick id. purposes. IRLHB15 hasnt been properly "christened" yet but hopefully after a few more encounters we might be inspired to come up with a name.
In the meantime lets hope for some settled weather and sea conditions for the end of September and into October when we fully expect these animals to feed a little further south and into Dingle Bay where they will be more accessible to our Blasket Islands Eco Marine Tours and our passengers.
In our next posting we hope to give details of our Big Whale Week from Friday October 5th to Sunday October 14th [a big week for big whale watching] when we hope to run 8 hour whale watching trips beyond the 100 metre depth contour west of the Blaskets, also suitable for pelagic bird watching. If the weather is suitable we will have our second boat "An Blascaod Mor" on standby to do some 12 hour offshore trips towards the Porcupine seabight area in search of blues, fin and pilot whales.