Sightings around the South West of Ireland include Minkes (7-10 mtr) which occur in the Summer - Autumn time, Fin Whales (18-23 mtrs) in the late Autumn - Winter as well as Long Finned Pilot Whale (4-6 mtr), Orcas or Killer Whales (6-9 mtrs) and Humpbacks (11-15 mtrs).
The Bottlenose Dolphins (2.9 - 3.9 mtrs) who like to bow-ride and breach or jump clear of the water, often seen in smaller groups of 5 to 15. The short beaked Common Dolphin is 1.7 - 2.4 mtrs in length and can be observed in large groups of 30 - 300+ often in association with feeding gannets and baleen whales. The smaller Harbour Porpoises (1.4 - 1.9 mtrs) create little surface disturbance and the head and tail are rarely visible, are known to be shy and will not bow-ride.
Grey Seals have a distinctive ‘Roman-nose’ profile. They favour off-shore islands and exposed and rather inaccessible coastlines.
Harbour or Common Seals are smaller in size. Both lack external earflaps and have flippers that are covered in hair. They are gregarious, forming colonies where they come
ashore to breed, rest, socialise and moult.
Gannets; Cormorants; Shags; Gulls (herrings, lesser-black backed, greater black-backed); Shearwaters; Storm Petrels; Terns; Auks (puffins, guillemots and razorbills); Divers; Little Egrets; Grey Heron; Choughs and Ravens; Kittiwake; Great and Arctic Skua; Waders; Swans; Ducks; Geese.
For groups or individuals wishing to book a half day excursion on the "Wave Chieftain" for a whale & dolphin tour or eco-trip, we have unpolluted waters, warmed by the Gulf Stream, pristine topography, colourful and spectacular scenery - and a great chance of seeing whales, dolphins, harbour porpoises, sunfish (also known as moon or mola / luna luna fish), seals & the occasional leatherback turtle and a great variety of birds.
Morning tour (2.5 hrs) pp € 30.00
Afternoon tour (3.5 hrs) pp € 40.00
Children under 12 (primary school age) get a 25% discount when accompanied by 2 adults
In the early 1990s the Irish Government declared its coastal waters a Whale & Dolphin Sanctuary (the first of its kind in Europe). The West Cork coast line is a feeding area for a number of whales and dolphins particularly between Galley Head and The Fastnet Lighthouse and to date 24 species have been recorded. From early May to late November you might see minke whales, fin whales, orcas (killer whales) and humpback whales whilst common dolphins and harbour porpoises are resident year-round. At other times you might see bottlenose dolphins, risso dolphins, killer whales (orca) and long-finned pilot whales.
Although there are no guaranteed sightings, this area is renowned for great whale watching. The whales are migratory, which means they spend much of the year travelling between summer feeding grounds at latitudes further north of Ireland and winter breeding grounds in tropical waters. They pass close to our coastline at certain times of the year. You'll have a great outing on board the Wave Chieftain which is a large stable vessel with indoor and outdoor seating, a toilet on board, hot drinks, reference books, binoculars and all safety equipment under the Department of Marine licensing rules & regulations.
We aim to provide you with a memorable whale & dolphin watching trip and will give information about the species' biology and their environment, feeding patterns but emphasise the animals’ wellbeing, protection and conservation. To do so we work to a code of conduct which includes keeping a minimum distance to them, slow speeds and appropriate angles to approach them, limit the time the boat is spending with the animals, and if a number of other boats approach or are in their vicinity we move away for a little while. We do not "chase" annimals as that may negatively impact on their behaviour of feeding, resting and other important activities.
The basking shark is the second largest living fish (after the whale shark) and one of three plankton-eating sharks along with the whale shark and megamouth shark. Adults typically reach 6–8 m (20–26 ft) in length. They are usually greyish-brown, with mottled skin. The caudal fin has a strong lateral keel and a crescent shape. The basking shark is a cosmopolitan migratory species, found in all the world's temperate oceans. A slow-moving filter feeder, its common name derives from its habit of feeding at the surface, appearing to be basking in the warmer water there. It has anatomical adaptations for filter feeding, such as a greatly enlarged mouth and highly developed gill rakers. Its snout is conical and the gill slits extend around the top and bottom of its head. The gill rakers, dark and bristle-like, are used to catch plankton as water filters through the mouth and over the gills. The teeth are very small and numerous, and often number one hundred per row. The teeth have a single conical cusp, are curved backwards, and are the same on both the upper and lower jaws. This species has the smallest weight-for-weight brain size of any shark, reflecting its relatively passive lifestyle.
Basking sharks are believed to overwinter in deep waters. They may be found in either small schools or alone. Small schools in the Bay of Fundy and the Hebrides have been seen swimming nose to tail in circles in what may be a form of mating behaviour. Despite their large size and threatening appearance, basking sharks are not aggressive and are harmless to humans. They are frequenly seen in Irish waters close to the shore from early spring to mid summer.
It has long been a commercially important fish, as a source of food, shark fin, animal feed, and shark liver oil. Overexploitation has reduced its populations to the point where some have disappeared and others need protection.
Whales and Dolphins
Irish waters provide some of the most important habitats for cetaceans (whales, dolphins and porpoises) in Europe.
Whale watching is best carried out during settled weather, when the seas are calm, winds are light and visibility is clear. Circling or diving gannets frequently reveal feeding porpoises, dolphins or whales, as they drive small fish to the surface when feeding. Surface splashes or peculiar waves may be caused by dolphins travelling close to the surface. A brief glint or a sudden reflection on a sunny day may be caused by sunlight catching the water as it runs off the back of a surfaced cetacean. Temporary vapour plumes or "blows" hanging on the horizon in windless conditions, will really reveal the presence of either fin or humpback whales which ave surfaced to breathe - if you're lucky enough to be close or downwind you might not like the fishy smell !
All cetaceans use sound for a range of activity such as communicating, feeding and navigation. The toothed whales or odontocetes use a technique called "echolocation" in much the same way as bats use sonar. This involves the transmission of intense pulses of sound at high frequency through the melon (forehead) and these sounds bounce back when they reach a solid object and return as an echo. Thus, sound is an essential tool used on a daily basis. The great whales or mysticetes communicate at much lower frequencies, and these sounds can travel great distances and much faster underwater. Baleen whales sounds have been detected at distances of hundreds of miles and it is thought that their sounds may even be audible at ranges of thousands of miles. This use of sound may explain in part how whales use sound to migrate great distances and how "singing" males can locate and attract partners in the vast open expanses.
Toothed Wales range in size from the huge Sperm Whale with a maximum length of 18 mtr, to the diminutive Harbour Porpoise (1.9 mtr max). Besides having teeth, the Odontoceti are distinguished by having only 1 external nostril or blowhole. There are nearly 70 species of toothed whale.
Killer Whales or Orcas are very striking with black on the back and sides and white belly extending as a rear pointing lobe up the flanks. It has a conspicuous white oval patch above and behind the eye, and a grey saddle on the back just behind the fin. Females are 5.5-6.5m and males are 6.7-7.0m length. The dorsal fin is very tall (up to 1.8m), triangular, and erect (sometimes tilted forwards) in the adult male. The female and immatures have a smaller, distinctly curved fin. At sea the species is easily identified by its conspicuous black & white coloration and tall dorsal fin. They are widely distributed on the Atlantic seaboard of northern Europe, mainly around Iceland, the Lofoten Islands and off Andenes in Western Norway, and in Northern Scotland, but they are occasionally seen around Ireland and the UK (in the northern North Sea). As well as feeding on fish (e.g. salmon, herring, cod, mackerel, etc), and squid, killer whales also feed on marine mammals (seals, sea-lions, elephant seals, dolphins & porpoises, as well as other whales), and birds. The killer whale’s broad jaw, relatively few teeth, and very powerful jaw muscles almost certainly aid the retention of large prey. Its reputation for feeding on other marine mammals is, however, probably exaggerated. For most populations, the diet seems to be primarily fish such as salmon and cod, and also cephalopods like squid. Killer whales are inquisitive and often approachable and may be seen breaching, lobtailing, flipper-slapping, and spy-hopping.
Long-Finned Pilot Whale is a medium-sized whale, with a bulbous forehead and a short, almost imperceptible, beak. The mouth-line is curved upwards, and the blowhole is set slightly to the left of centre on the top of the head. Male long-finned pilot whales attain lengths of 5.5m to over 6m. Females are smaller at around 4 to 4.5m, with a maximum of 5.5m. Sexual size dimorphism is obvious: mature males are up to a metre or so longer than females, and almost double their maximum weight. The dorsal fin is fairly low and long-based, sickle-shaped to flag-shaped with age, and located relatively far forward on the back. The species has a black or dark grey head and back, a greyish-white anchor-shaped patch on the chin, and a grey area on the belly. At sea, it is recognised as slow-swimming with a bulbous head, a dark back, a low fin, and long flippers. They are extremely social and show strong herding behaviour. Pods may sometimes rest motionless at the surface allowing boats to approach closely. They sometimes bow-ride and lob tailing and spy-hopping are often observed. Long-finned pilot whales are thought to have a life span of around 50 years, with the females living longer than males.Their diet is varied depending on the time of year but consists mainly of squid, cuttlefish and octopus and other prey items including fish and shrimps.
Harbour Porpoises are the smallest species of cetacean found in European waters, measuring around 1.3 - 1.5 metres in length and weighing 50 - 60 kg. It is often confused with dolphins, particularly the bottlenose dolphin. The porpoise is rotund in shape, with a small triangular dorsal fin which shows briefly above the surface - usually little of the animal is seen, as it rarely leaves the water entirely. It has a small rounded head with no distinct beak. Harbour porpoises favour comparatively shallow, cold water and do not usually approach boats nor bow ride. Harbour porpoises generally live in groups of two or three animals, or singly, but occasionally forming groups of 10 - 20 animals. Larger aggregations of up to several hundred porpoises have also been seen seasonally (Feb-March & Aug-Oct), either associated with food concentrations or long-distance movement. They eat a varied diet of fish, cephalopods and crustaceans, related to local availability of food; herring, mackerel, sand-eel, gobies and a wide range of gadoid fish such as cod, saithe, pollack, and whiting.
The Bottlenose Dolphin is a large stocky dolphin around 2.5 - 3.0 metres in length and weighing 200-275 kg, and perhaps the most familiar of all the dolphins one is likely to see. It has a large sickle-shaped fin and is often seen near the coast - in bays and around harbours, although herds can also be seen far offshore, often accompanying much larger pilot whales. When individuals - usually males - become separated from the social group, they may seek contact with humans (such as Clette who was in Baltimore in 2015, Dusty around the Arann Isles for a few years now and the well-known Fungi dolphin in Dingle). The bottlenose dolphin is a social animal, usually living in herds of between 6 and 25 individuals, although sometimes these may aggregate together to form herds numbering up to a thousand animals. The smaller herds appear to be rather like an extended family, with individuals remaining together over a number of years. Sometimes members split off and form small sub-groups, particularly if they are of the same sex or broadly the same age. These may, however, return at intervals to the core group. Family groups seem to be based upon females with their calves, and these latter can remain with their mothers for three, four, or even up to ten years, before going their own way. Males may join the group for short periods, or live in separate bachelor herds. The life span of males is more than 25 years, and females have been known to live over 50 years. Although the bottlenose dolphin takes a wide variety of schooling fish including herring, mackerel, cod, bass, salmon, and sea trout, in many parts of its range around the world coastal populations are thought to favour bottom-living fish such as mullet, moray eels and flounder.
Atlantic White-Sided Dolphins are a large and fairly robust dolphin, measuring 1.9 - 2.5 metres when fully-grown and weighing up to 230 kg. It is often confused with the white-beaked dolphin - the Atlantic white-sided dolphin can be distinguished by its smaller, slimmer, body, and by a white patch on the sides which runs into a yellowish streak just before the tail. It is very conspicuous at sea, being acrobatic, frequently breaching and tail slapping. A fast and powerful swimmer, it will occasionally swim alongside vessels, bow-riding in front of faster ships, as well as riding the waves created by larger whales. This species is one of those most frequently seen by people taking offshore pleasure boat trips. The dolphins are often seen in association with other cetaceans, such as white-beaked dolphins, killer whales and humpback whales, and may sometimes be seen feeding with them. White-sided dolphins favour herring, poor cod, pout, scad and squid, but they also take shrimp, silver hake, argentine, and mackerel. They appear to feed co-operatively, with groups of dolphins herding fish against the surface of the water.
Short-beaked Common Dolphin is one of the smallest of the true dolphins, measuring 2.1 - 2.4 metres in length and weighing 75 - 85 kg. The body is long and slender, as is the beak, and the dorsal fin is tall and pointed. The common dolphin’s characteristic hourglass or criss-cross pattern on its flanks is a good distinguishing feature. This patch is tan or yellowish in colour before the dorsal fin, and pale grey behind. Common dolphins are very agile and active and commonly bow-ride, often accompanying boats for many miles, and are capable of swimming at great speed, as well as engaging in energetic aerial acrobatics. Mainly opportunistic feeders, the common dolphin diet is very varied, consisting chiefly of small schooling fish such as cod, hake, mackerel, sardine, pilchard, horse mackerel, scad, sprat, sand eel, herring, whiting and blue whiting, as well as squid - the type of food taken depends on local availability. Groups of dolphins often use co-operative feeding techniques to herd schools of fish, panicking the fish through frenzied activity and taking them in the confusion.
Risso’s Dolphins ae relatively easy to identify at sea, especially an older individual, due to their distinctive scars and scratches which deepen with age, resulting in a lightening of the body colour - mature dolphins may be almost entirely white. These marks are probably caused by the teeth of other Risso’s dolphins, as well as the sharp beaks of squid, a major prey item. The body is robust and stocky, and an adult can reach a maximum length of 4 metres and a weight of 500 kg. The head, which has no beak, is large and rounded, with a unique crease which leads from the blowhole to the upper ‘lip’. Risso’s dolphins are active at the surface of the water, rarely bow riding as such but often swimming alongside vessels and surfing the waves. It generally favours deep offshore waters, but may be seen closer to the shore around oceanic islands, and in Ireland most sightings occur within 10 kilometres of the coast. The dolphins tend to form pods of between 2 and 45 animals and can be rather rough with one another, slapping, splashing and striking being observed, and this behaviour undoubtedly leads to some of the distinctive scarring seen on the skin. Their diet consists mainly of octopus, cuttlefish, and small squid and crustaceans. Occasionally small fish form the prey of Risso’s dolphin, with the dolphins often swimming in a line formation in order to improve effectiveness of hunting.
Baleen Whales range in size from the Pygmy Right Whale (7 mtr in length) to the massive Blue Whale which grows to over 30 mtrs. Instead of teeth, these whales have plates of baleen (whalebone) which hang from the roof of their mouths. These vertical plates can grow to over 2 mtr in length in some species and are used to filter enormous quantities of small fish and crustaceans. The word ‘baleen’, refers to the hundreds of comb-like plates which hang down from their upper jaws. These plates have stiff hairs that filter food out of the vast amounts of water taken into the mouth during feeding, acting as a kind of sieve. Baleen whales have 2 external nostrils or blowholes.
Humpback Whales is one of the easiest whales to identify, due to its distinctive tail flukes, knobbly head and long flippers. When making a deep dive the humpback raises its flukes high into the air and the shape of the tail flukes, as well as their markings, are unique to each whale, and so can be used for recognition of individuals. One of the most energetic of the large whales, its spectacular breaching and flipper slapping is familiar to all. The body is large and stocky, an adult measuring up to 15 metres in length, and weighing up to 35 tonnes. The ‘blow’ of a humpback rises to 2.5 - 3 metres in height, and is distinctively ‘bushy’ in shape. The humpback whale consumes krill (shrimp-like creatures), as well as fish (such as herring and cod in Irish waters). Huge quantities of food and water are taken in through the mouth, which is then closed to allow water to be pressed through the baleen. The sieved food is then swallowed. Humpbacks use a variety of elaborate feeding techniques, such as using ‘nets’ of bubbles to trap prey, disabling fish using their flippers, and lunging.
Fin Whales ares the second largest of all whales. In the northern hemisphere, females are from 20-24 metres, and males from 18.5-22 metres in length. In the southern hemisphere, both sexes grow ca. 1-2 metres larger. At close range, a distinctive feature is the lower jaw, which is white on the right, but black on the left. The baleen plates are black, with exception of the front third on the right side, which is cream-coloured or white. The body colour is a uniform slate grey, with a light grey, V-shaped chevron across the back behind, and a “blaze” on the right side of the head. Fin whales have a slender head, which looks V-shaped and flattened from above with a single prominent median ridge. They have a relatively small, backwards pointing dorsal fin with little curvature situated one-third from the back. The tail flukes are not usually shown when diving. The blow is tall (46 m high) and shaped like an inverted cone. Fin whales are fast swimmers averaging 2-6.5 km/hour when feeding, 6-9 km/hour during normal travel, up to 30 km/hour in short bursts when migrating or cruising, and up to 41 km/hour when alarmed. They may dive to depths of over 480 metres. Fin whales can live to 85-90 years. Fin whales feed mainly on planktonic crustacea (mainly euphausiids such as Meganyctiphanes norvegica but also copepods), but they also take fish (e.g. herring, capelin, sandeel, mackerel and blue whiting), and cephalopods
Minke Whales are the smallest and most abundant of the baleen whales. Males are from 7-9.8 metres and females 7.5-11 metres in length, both slightly larger in southern hemisphere populations. They have a slender, pointed triangular head with a single central ridge. The dorsal fin is relatively tall, sickle-shaped, and situated nearly two-thirds of the way along the back. The head and body are dark grey to black but with grey areas or chevrons on the flanks, and a distinctive diagonal white band on the flippers. At sea, they have an inconspicuous (often unseen) vertical blow 2-3 metres high which is seen almost simultaneously with the fin, before the animal goes into a relatively arched rol. Although minke whales can be difficult to approach, some individuals are inquisitive and may investigate boats. They sometimes spyhop and breach. Their diet consists of fish, such as herring, cod, capelin, sand eel, haddock, whiting, and saithe as well as plankton.
Grey seals weigh between 100 and 400 kg and an measure just over 3 mtrs in length. Generally, males are darker and
females lighter and their pups are born white with a yellowish tint. The typical life span of the Grey Seal is 40 years.
They generally feed in open waters and eat a wide variety of fish, squid, octopus, and crustaceans such as shrimp. Sometimes they eat a seabird or two. Small fish are swallowed whole, while larger ones are held in the seal's mouth and torn into smaller, more easily swallowed pieces with the claws on the front flippers.
Common or Harbour seals are between 1.2 and 2 mtr long and weigh 50 to 170 kg. They can usually be observed inhabiting shallow areas where sandbars, rocks and beaches are uncovered during low tides or otherwise easily accessible. Since harbour seals do not migrate, in many areas they are present year-round and while site fidelity is displayed, harbor seals are also capable of long-distance movements. The snout is blunt and because harbour seals spend so much time underwater its nostrils are naturally shut giving them their characteristic V-shaped nostrils. They must actually be pushed open when inhaling occurs.
Whether you're on the boat to a dive or snorkel site, whale and dolphin watching or purely trying to spot birds, this area of coastline has a huge range. Birds and their habitats are an important measure of sustainable development and have a significant role in dealing with issues such as water quality, flooding, climate change and quality of life. They are afforded some protection under national legislation, European legislation and under international agreements and conventions. Through these EU directives the Irish Government identified several key Special Protection Areas and Special Areas of Conservation - one of these is Roaringwater Bay.
Ireland boasts one of the largest populations of Chough and breeding Storm Petrels found in Europe but all species are under threat from climate change, aggressive use of pesticides, disappearing hedgerows, increased industries and housing and pollution / carbon emissions.
They typically feed on fish, crustaceans, molluscs, insects, annelids, amphibians and invertebrates. Some dive from great heights to catch their pray and divers may well spot gannets and cormorants at 40 mrs deep! When you spot feeding frenzies there's a good chance you'll also see whales and dolphins feeding in the water where the birds plunge dive amongst them.
Anyone interested in ornithology will probably be aware that the Cape Clear Bird Observatory celebrated it's 50th anniversary in August 2009. They run regular Wildlife Courses, ranging from Beginners Birding to Seabirds and Migration, and have amassed recorded sightings of 302 species so far.