Sightings of some of the most rarely seen whales on the planet have been recorded from the deck of the yacht the Celtic Mist off the southwest coast.
The Irish Whale and Dolphin Group (IWDG) has photographed three beaked whales on the Porcupine Bight, about 120km southwest of Kerry.
The whales are "almost certainly" what are known as True's beaked whales, which have only been spotted alive twice before – in the Bay of Biscay and off the Canaries – according to IWDG marine mammal observer and co-ordinator Patrick Lyne.
The whales are named after Frederick K True, a former curator of the national museum in the US, now the Smithsonian. The first such live sighting was in 1995.
Mr Lyne was on board the Celtic Mist, which was on its second offshore research trip since the group was given the yacht by the Haughey family.
The focus of interest for the voyage was activity on the continental slope of the Porcupine Bight’s eastern edge, which includes the Belgica mound special area of conservation (SAC).
Images of the True’s beaked whales have been sent for further identification, as the whale is similar to the Gervais beaked whale – also rare, and a vagrant in these waters.
“We have seen strandings of these beaked whales, already dead, but they tend to live so far offshore that we have never seen them at sea,” Mr Lyne explained.
The mammals passed within 50 metres of the Celtic Mist on its trip last week.Frederick W True first identified the beaked whales a century ago.
They are a medium-sized whale, distinguished by the teeth on the end of their beak, with two separate populations in the northern and southern hemispheres.
The IWDG observation team also recorded Northern bottlenose whales, another type of beaked whale “infrequent” in Irish waters, and fin whales.
Returning to the Kerry coast, the team and crew witnessed what Mr Lyne described as a “fabulous feeding display” 25km west of the Blasket Islands, with breaching humpback whales, minke whales and hundreds of common dolphins competing with gannets and shearwaters for fish.