Humpback whales off the West Kerry Coast 2015
Humpback whales congregating off West Kerry Coast
2015 has proven a difficult year so far for boat based whale watching with one Atlantic low after another racing in over Ireland's west coast. It was all the more frustrating as we have been watching quite a substantial number of humpback whale blows out to sea, unable to reach them due to strong winds and heavy ocean swells.
Our 2012 whale and dolphin watching season has now closed and below is a brief summary of our encounters with some of Irelands most interesting megafauna in 2012 Early in the season [April, May , June] our most interesting megafauna are the huge basking shark [second largest fish in the world after the whale shark] swimming near the surface of the water with their snouts, large dorsal fin and tail fin visible as they twist and turn in their never ending pursuit of the minuscule plankton on which they feast, especially when the water is around 11 to 12 degrees.
However, on July 19th a weather window opened and after an initial watch from the land during which we observed a number of animals not too far out to sea, we were eventually able to head out to their feeding grounds off the West Kerry coast. Working in close cooperation with local humpback whale researcher Nick Massett we were rewarded with the beautiful sight of two humpback whales feeding close to our boat, with another couple of animals slightly further off.
One of the whales in our proximity was HBIRL23 (the 23rd identified humpback whale in Irish waters), an interannual long-term visitor to our shores. A prolific 'fluker' -happy to raise its tail fluke again and again - it has become a familiar and very welcome sight for us. First observed on July 28th 2013, it spent the best part of summer 2014 off the Dingle Peninsula and was the first humpback whale this year on May 2nd to kick off the humpback whale season.
Nick Massett has since confirmed that on July 19th there were in all likelihood 10 humpback whales feeding off our West Kerry coast. While all this is very exciting news and a huge milestone in humpback whale research in Ireland, we need to remind any prospective whale watcher that locating these giants is always a huge job and sightings can never be guaranteed - they're feeding quite a distance out to sea and cover vast areas over very short periods of time in pursuit of their prey. However, we will avail of any weather window open to us to go out in pursuit of these absolutely magnificent creatures.
Although they were plentiful again this year - on some days we could truthfully describe the waters around the Blaskets and Dingle Bay as shark infested- they did not quite attain the numbers present in 2011, and then one day they just disappeared like they had never been there. We are always surprised by this phenomenon as they appear gradually at the start of the season to feast on their favourite plankton but their disappearance is always sudden and unexpected and more or less complete apart from an odd straggler.
As the humpback whales are congregating the puffins are preparing to leave our shores. We have been observing them recently in large numbers outside their breeding burrows and also higher out to sea. They are slowly getting ready to head out into the middle of the Atlantic and beyond, with some venturing as far as the east coast of Newfoundland in search of food. They should be with us for at least another fortnight or so around their colonies, after which we will still see them in smaller numbers out on the open sea until those last stragglers too will have taken off westward. So if seeing a puffin is on your bucket list, avail of the next couple of weeks and join our afternoon eco tour -or all-day-tour- and we'll try to find you a puffin or two or a dozen.