First sighting of year in Irish waters of humpback whale


THE FIRST humpback whale of 2011 seen in Irish waters was identified this week off the southeast coast. Irish Whale and Dolphin Group sightings co-ordinator Pádraig Whooley said the humpback, which has been given the codename #HBIRL13, was seen over two days between Hook Head, Co Wexford, and Dunmore East, Co Waterford.

“We thought at first it might have been a previous visitor, but it is a new visitor – the 13th positively identified,” Mr Whooley said. “We have seen a lot more than 13 here – such as the humpback off Howth, Co Dublin, last year which the young dinghy sailor encountered – but it is only in certain conditions that we can conduct biopsies and use photo identification.”

The biopsy was undertaken with a crossbow and the whale’s fluke was photographed in detail.

“It didn’t breach and was probably busy feeding on herring which spawn in this area.”

The herring grounds tend to attract fin whales initially, which were here in greater numbers, and humpbacks then followed, he said.

Humpback whales inhabit all oceans and are considered to be endangered, with up to 10,000 only surviving in the north Atlantic. They have been exploited commercially from the 1800s up until 1966.

The whale and dolphin group has been researching the extensive migrations of the whales. They winter in the Atlantic off the West Indies as far south as Venezuela, and in the eastern Atlantic around Cape Verde islands and off northwest Africa. They spend summer in sea areas extending from New England north to Baffin Island, along the west coast of Greenland, around Iceland and northern Norway.

The first trip that sighted the mammal here was undertaken last Sunday on the MV Rebecca C, skippered by Martin Colfer, and the MV Keltoi Warriorskippered by Brendan Glody. On board were local whale-watchers Paddy Roche, Deirdre Slevin and Andrew Malcolm of the whale and dolphin group, among others.

Mr Malcolm described how the whale was “being harassed by a small group of dolphins and was more preoccupied with trying to avoid them than . . . being interested in what we were doing”.