Thursday, 17 December 2009

Dear John getter (from IWDG)

Killer Thriller off Galley Head, West Cork
17 December 2009
There is a build up of whale activity in West Cork, as favourable northerlies take hold, with some recent sightings of large whales and evidence that there may at least be some humpback activity among them. But Galley Head produced a lot more than we bargained for this morning.
Following from a short watch on Wed afternoon from Dunnycove, Ardfield, at least two large whales were seen within 2-3 km of shore in Clonakilty Bay area. Neither could be confirmed to species level, so anxious to put this right I headed back to my vantage point at the Ardfield Signal tower. The hazy conditions were far from ideal for scoping but panning to my west off Galley Head, I detected some rather puzzling "blows" which were too large to belong to dolphins and not quite tall enough to belong to either fin or humpback whale.
In order to get a closer look, I drove across to Galley Head and focussed my watch effort on an area of concentrated commercial fishing activity. Within minutes the 1st awesome black dorsal fin carved through the water, followed by two more. Yes, killer whales.
It’s been about six years since I’ve seen killer whales in Irish waters, and boy but it was well worth the wait. At relatively close range of 2-3kms the easily recognizable dorsal fin of KWIRL 2 known in the Scottish Hebridean Islands as #001 or “John Coe” was apparent. This bull has now been well documented in Irish waters in recent years, but is the 2nd sighting of John Coe in Irish waters in 2009, as he was also seen on 5th July 09 in Galway Bay.
I watched them for about 80 minutes as they seemed to spend a lot of time loitering due south of Galley within clear view of the lighthouse. They then headed east and as I started to struggle to follow them with my scope, I picked up a 2nd much larger group of 5 killer whales about 1km to their west. Travelling in a classic killer whale line formation, with at least another 3 adult males (bulls) and two smaller animals which in hindsight were likely to be adult females. This group were travelling eastwards very fast and were further offshore, but still produced stunning sightings for another 45 minutes, and obliged by staying in view long enough for William Helps to see his first killers.
We later established from Edward Helps that there were 7-10 bottlenose dolphins in Dirk Cove, and one can only wonder whether they were seeking refuge from this apex predator which passed with a few kilometers of the mouth of the cove as they passed Galley Head. Meanwhile over to our west, another IWDG local member, Calvin Jones was watching a series of large blows off the cliffs behind Rosscarbery pier, which he feels were more likely to be humpback whales.
So on one morning alone in a tiny part of West Cork we can confirm either fin/ humpback whales (x2), killer whales (x8) and bottlenose dolphins (7-10). Not bad for mid-winter. Let’s hope these favourable viewing conditions continue long enough to give us a real opportunity to carry out photo ID research on these visitors to our inshore waters.
What an adrenaline packed Christmas present and a great way to sign off on another year monitoring whales along the Irish south coast. Pádraig Whooley
Sightings Co-ordinator www.iwdg.ie