Killer whale "John Coe" and his mother visit the Blaskets
The week leading up to July 19th had been quite a "dry" week for Blasket Islands Eco Marine Tours with very few sightings of whales and/or dolphins around the Blaskets and Dingle Bay for our boat trips from Ventry Harbour aboard "Blasket Princess" apart from lots of seals around the Great Blasket and still lots of puffins back at Inisvickillane and Inish na Bro. There were quite a few harbour porpoises about for the morning and afternoon tours [our smallest cetacean and the other end of the scale to the blue whale] but unfortunately they are very shy and can only be viewed properly with engines cut and drifting which has the added advantage that you can hear their blows as they come to the surface to breath. Luckily we had arranged for an evening tour which we generally do in fine settled weather and just between Slea head and Dunmore Head [the most westerly point in Ireland] we had a nice sighting of a minke whale. I contacted my fellow IWDG member Nick Masset to tell him the "Famine" was over and it looked like there might be a bit of feeding and action again. He said he would come back to his perch on Slea Head for a look and we continued on our tour looking at the grey seals hauled out on the rocks by Carraig Fhada. On our way back by Slea Head Nick gave me a call and informed me there were 2 killer whales [orca] about 1/2 mile abeam of our position. We duly responded and came alongside a large male orca and a female orca. They interacted with the boat initially and then continued feeding and heading slowly south and we hung off a couple of hundred metres watching these magnificent creatures and ace predators. Luckily two of our passengers onboard had phone cameras and we managed to get a couple of id shots.
According to Padraig Whooley of the IWDG the male is called "John Coe" and was first photo identified off Scotland in 1992. Apparently the female accompanying him is most likely his mother as male killer whales often travel with their mum and sometimes with their aunts! They are part of what is known as the "west coast community" [Scotland] of North Atlantic killer whales and coincidentally another pair from the group accompanied by the easily identified "Floppy" [his dorsal fin flops to one side] were spotted by Nick Masset a few weeks previously around the same ground. "John Coe" is a beautiful big male with a striking big fin and hopefully he can leave his mothers side for long enough to mate with a suitable female as this particular pod of killer whales are in danger of extinction as no young whales have been recorded with the group in the last number of years as they are monitored frequently off Scotland. Unfortunately the problem may be pollution [lead and mercury and other nasty poisons] as being top predators they may be absorbing a lot of the toxins concentrated in other mammal and fish bodies and this in turn may be affecting their fertility.
Anyway we are glad we had a chance to see John Coe and his mother when they came by the Blaskets and we will be keeping a good weather eye out for them if they decide to make the return trip hopefully with Floppy to their home hunting grounds off the west coast of Scotland. Hop on board an afternoon or evening trip and you never know your luck. But please do not ask us at the start of a trip how many whales we are going to see as it is a Nature Lottery, you never know, but either way you are the winner as it is the search that counts, isn't it?