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The best place in Ireland to watch whales, dolphins, basking shark - West Kerry

common dolphins blasket islands
Photo by Steffen Stoekler


The best place in Ireland to watch whales, dolphins and basking shark

There is no doubt that West Kerry is the best place in Ireland to watch whales, dolphins and basking shark during the summer months.

At the moment there has been a bit of a lull in our whale watching activities from Ventry Harbour - Ceann Trá - due to a prolonged period of bad weather. This period of bad weather at this time of year is traditionally known in Irish as "Scaribhín na gcuach" (rough period of bad weather at the time of the cuckoo) or more generally "Scaribhín na Bealtaine" ( May period of bad weather) and is traditionally due to end after the 15th May and coincidentally the medium term weather forecasts are also showing an improvement in the weather patterns then.

Dolphins, Minke whales and Basking Shark

Previous to this period of bad weather on our Blasket Islands Eco Marine Tours from Ventry Harbour, Co. Kerry we had regular sightings of Minke whales and only one day since the beginning of our marine tours at the start of April that we did not encounter a school of common dolphins on one of our morning, afternoon or evening trips. It appears that they were feeding on dispersed shoals of sprat as evidenced also in the stomach contents of line caught pollack.

We had a brief appearance of some basking shark south of the Great Blasket island and south of Slea Head - which is the best place in Ireland for land based whale watching closely followed by Clogher Head later in the season for watching humpback whales north of Sybil Head and north of Inish Tuaisceart , "An Fear Marbh" ( "The Sleeping Giant" or "The Dead Man"), the most northerly of the Blasket islands.

This appearance of basking shark so early in the season was unexpected as the water temperature at the time was only 8.5 to 9 degrees C and we  normally dont expect to see them in Dingle Bay and around the Blasket islands until the water temperature approaches 11 to 12 degrees C when their favourite plankton on which they like to graze on blooms at the surface south of the Blasket islands and off Slea Head.

At the moment the water temperature is still a cold 10 degrees C but we are hoping that in the next few weeks as the water temperature approaches 12 degrees C they will return to the Blasket islands and Dingle Bay in numbers. So if you want to see some basking shark in 2013 we advise you to book one of our tours in the next few weeks! After that they generally go north  towards Donegal and also the Isle of Man in the Irish Sea seems to be another hot spot for them

Tales of humpback whales, blue whales and fin whales...

From mid June onwards we will be watching out for humpback whales, which appeared off the Blasket islands about this time last year and stayed for approx. 4 months before heading down to the herring grounds off Cork and Waterford in Autumn.

There is a formidable publicity machine that heralds their arrival in West Cork when they arrive there in early Autumn but this year we intend to make lots of noise when they appear in West Kerry and Kerry territorial waters which stretch 50 mls. north / south from Lat. 52 degrees 33' N to Lat. 51 degrees 43.5' N and 200 miles out to the continental shelf edge. Interestingly of the two recorded sightings of blue whales in Irish waters in recent years one sighting (2008) was in the waters off West Kerry and one sighting (2012) was in the waters off West Cork.

In early Autumn the herring spawning and sprat shoaling grounds extend from Cork to Waterford and there is no doubt that at that time of year there are superb opportunities to watch fin whales and humpback whales there. But as regards summer whale watching opportunities we humbly suggest that the waters off West Kerry, in particular the waters of Dingle Bay, Blasket islands and Sybil Head area, provide the best opportunities to watch whales and dolphins in Ireland.

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Ventry / Ceann Trá
Dingle Peninsula, Co. Kerry

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