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, seals & the occasional leatherback turtle and a great variety of birds.
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, you'll have a great outing on board this 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.
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.
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. Baleen whales have 2 external nostrils or blowholes.
The great 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. During summer, long days and melting sea ice combine to create massive blooms of phytoplankton, which kick-start an entire food chain, at the top of which are the great whales. Once the long summer days start shortening, the productivity slows down, until there is no longer sufficient food at these latitudes to sustain these giants. And so they begin a long migration south towards the tropics, which are winter calving grounds for several species.
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.