Fin whale strandings November 2017

14th Dec 2017

We are fortunate in Ireland to have the world’s second-largest animal, the fin whale, frequenting our coastal waters. There are regular sightings of these animals from both boat and land-based watches, especially along the south and southwest coast, sometimes very close to shore – quite a spectacle for such a large animal. While sightings of fin whales are common, strandings (thankfully) are less so.
There are 41 recorded strandings of this species on the IWDG Strandings Database, dating all the way back to Bantry Bay, Co. Cork in 1862. There have been 22 recorded fin whale strandings since 2000 (when the recording schemes became somewhat more organised) giving an average of around 1.3 strandings per year. In some years (eg 2014), no strandings were recorded, whereas in 2009, three records were received between January and March in counties Cork, Wexford and Clare.
On 4th November, a large c.20m male baleen whale washed ashore at Scraig, Arranmore Island, Co. Donegal, reported by Teresa Brown and Donegal IWDG. Unfortunately, it was washed out again before it could be examined properly, so although identification can’t be 100% confirmed, it is likely that this animal was a fin whale.

Photo above: Baleen whale, Arranmore Island, Co. Donegal, 4 November 2017.©Teresa Brown.
On 12 November, another large male baleen whale washed ashore in the northwest, this time at Trawee, near Aughris Head, Co. Sligo. This whale was visited by Will Woodrow and John-Mark Dick who measured it at an impressive 19m. Examination of the baleen plates confirmed this animal as a fin whale, with diagnostic white baleen plates towards the front righthand side and dark elsewhere. The condition of the carcass was better than the Arranmore animal and was definitely a different animal, rather than a ‘re-stranding’.


Photo left: Fin whale, Trawee, Co. Sligo
12 November 2017. © John-Mark Dick.


It is an unusual coincidence to have two large baleen whales of similar size (and both male) washed ashore in the northwest only eight days apart and it’s hard not to speculate on whether there is/was any connection between the two. Unfortunately, try to establish the cause of death of such a large animal, especially when the carcass is not fresh, would be very challenging. Here’s hoping that no more wash up on our shores in the coming weeks!
Mick O’Connell,
IWDG Strandings Coordinator