A humpback whale with dolphins captured by Nic Slocum while on a whale watching expedition.

Having a whale of a time

By Marguerite Kiely

West Cork has witnessed an abundance of marine life sightings In recent weeks, with social media feeds full of videos of majestic mammals such as whales and basking sharks.

The appearance of a humpback whale in Tragumna Bay, in particular, has sparked great excitement among locals and visitors alike.

Speaking about whether there’s an increased number of whales, Padraig Whooley of the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group, told the Cork Independent: “It’s not that uncommon to have whales at this time of the year, there’s plenty of minke whales and a few humpback whales in West Cork. What has been unusual over the past few weeks has to do with the weather rather than the whales themselves. We have had fabulous weather recently which has given us the conditions to actually view the whales.”

He continued: “We would say that the huge sightings of whales probably just reflects the numbers of people in West Cork actively looking for whales and dolphins. You’ve got to be careful in assuming that lots of reports equates to lots of whales.”

Nic Slocum of Whale Watch West Cork echoed his sentiments saying contrary to what social media would have us believe, we are not seeing more whales than usual. “The numbers of humpback whales in Cork you can count on one hand,” he said.

Nonetheless, for those interested in embarking on a whale-seeking adventure, there is no shortage of species to encounter.

“We have 3 main species of baleen whales: the minke whale, the fin whale, and humpback whales. We also have a number of tooth whales, the harbour porpoise and the common dolphin, and occasionally we see bottlenose dolphins and pilot whales,” he said.

However, Padraig Whooley cautioned boat owners to exercise caution when encountering whales on the water. He emphasised the importance of knowing “the rules of the sea and how to react, respond, and behave”.

Highlighting the potential for damage to personal property and to the whales, he said: “A 40 tonne whale doesn't necessarily know where you are if you are in a kayak. People need to be respectful; they are generally docile and mean us no harm but don’t put yourself in a position where accidents can happen.”

For those who prefer to stay on land, Nic Slocum explained that there are still opportunities to witness whales: “If you are trying to look at them from land, any prominent headland that sticks out into the sea that gives you good elevation and good pair of binoculars. You do need to be patient though.”

One of the Irish Dolphin and Whale Group’s remarkable findings is that certain whales have been returning to the waters of West Cork for 3 decades.

“This whale that was in Tragumna Bay recently has been recorded returning here for 6 of the last 7 years and has been tracked from places like Cape Verde Island all the way back up to West Cork. It’s just wonderful to know that it’s here and it’s returned yet again,” he said.