Humpbacks and puffins
Its that time of year again when the puffins are gathering and getting ready to leave their summer nesting burrows on the Blasket Islands, particularly on Inisvickillane and Inish na Bro and spend the rest of the year on the North Atlantic until they return again to the lovely Blaskets, in Dingle Bay next April. Last year they left around July 26th, apart from a few stragglers, and this year will probably be something similar, as their internal clock measures the shortening daylight. They are among the first of the breeding seabirds to depart our shores and anybody wishing to see them should come on one of our Blasket Islands Eco Marine Tours this week to avail of the last few chances to see then until next April / May.
There is a season for everything and just as the basking shark "disappeared" when the water temperature rose above 12 degrees and their favourite plankton bloom was no longer available on the surface and they went further north and deeper for different food sources, now that the water temperature is approaching 15 degrees we have regular sightings of sunfish [three on July 21st], which are a deep water fish which come closer inshore to feed this time on year and give us an opportunity to see one of the strangest of the deep ocean inhabitants up close and personal as they drift on the surface of the water. Their rounded squat appearance which is in the vertical rather than the horizontal plane [they are laterally compressed] give them a very incongruous appearance aided and abetted by various appendages and protuberances. They are basically an enormous head and tail without a body and in some languages are referred to as "moon fish". Sometimes you see them swimming on the surface with their long dorsal fin drooping from side to side. They use this dorsal fin and the anal fin to propel themselves through the water when swimming underwater but it is defunct when they are on the surface. They also lie sideways on the surface of the water sunning themselves, hence the confusion with basking shark which are sometimes referred to as sunfish. It is not clear why they do this and theories range from a type of thermal recharging to allowing seabirds pick the parasites off their skins. Their presence around our coast is always a sign that the water temperature is increasing. Their main source of food is jellyfish [like our leatherback turtles] and like turtles plastic bags are lethal to them as they ingest them mistaking them for jellyfish. Come and join us on an eco marine tour on a calm day and you might see one for yourself.
The big story in the marine wildlife environment around the Blasket Islands and Dingle Bay, Co. Kerry is that humpback whales have been spotted west of the Blaskets by Nick Masset of IWDG and he has identified the animal he encountered as HBIRL10 which is very nice to know as this animal has been identified now for 3 different years as returning to the Blasket Islands, Dingle Bay area and incidentally we have a photo of his tail fluke in our sitting room as he prepares to dive, accompanied by 3 common dolphins and Valentia island in the background. Its always nice to see whales and dolphins but it is even nicer to know some of their family history and it helps to build up an overall picture of population density depending on whether "local" whales are returning emigrants or new visitors. Its nice to recognise old behemoth friends from the deep but also nice to record new animals which help to increase the cetacean population density particularly for this very showy megafauna.
Finally a word of warning to all perspective customers of Blasket Islands Eco Marine Tours. We run our eco marine tours from Ventry Harbour looking for whales and dolphins and other marine wildlife around the Blasket Islands and Dingle Bay which is part of the North Atlantic Ocean which is not a frog pond or a zoo. We cannot guarantee sightings on all of our trips all of the time but if there are whales or dolphins in the area and within range and the time constraints of the trip you have a very good chance of spotting them if you come with us. These are wild megafauna in the open Atlantic and apart from dolphins and minke whales, which we regularly see inshore, we can only observe them if we are lucky enough to be in the right place when they come inshore to feed, which depends on distribution of plankton, krill, sprat etc. Basically we think that the best attitude is to regard the boat trip as a nature lottery with lots of side benefits like sea air, sea birds, good company from like minded people, wonderful seascapes and landscapes and the possibility of sighting a whale if we are in the right place at the right time. We know the right spots and its the right time of year, so its up to the whales now to join us! Book your ticket now for the Nature Lottery, either way you cant lose!