IWDG welcome humpback #HBIRL86 to Ireland

5th Apr 2018

The early flurry of humpback whale activity off the Beara Peninsula, Co. Cork last week culminated in good enough sea conditions on 31st March for IWDG's MMO Officer Patrick Lyne to get out on the water to try and secure some Photo ID images and data. These calls can be a bit of a gamble, as by the time you get to the site there is no guarantee the whales will still be in the area, or indeed that the weather will be as obliging as it was hours before. Even if the whales are present and the wind stays light, there is no guarantee the whales will co-operate and lift their tail-flukes. Most humpbacks tail fluke most of the time, but we've all spent time with individuals who simply won't fluke, and this is most often the case when they are foraging in shallow waters, where there is simply insufficient water under them to dive deep. We've observed a small humpback feeding on lesser sandeels in less than 4 mts of water in Inchydoney, Co. Cork.

However, the stars were in alligment on Sat. 31st, the seas stayed calm, the humpbacks were in the same area where Patrick had been scoping them earlier, and they were fluking. Patrick got a strong suite of clear and full frame images of the ventral surface of the flukes of one individual, as well as a good right side dorsal fin (see images), which combine to leave us confident, after running the images through the Irish Humpback Whale Catalogue, that this is a new humpback to Ireland. So we are delighted to introduce you to #HBIRL86. You can name him/her whatever you want, but allocating each whale a unique reference makes it easier for us to manage the data associated with this rapidly growing resource.

Images of HBIRL86, © Patrick Lyne, IWDG

We hope HBIRL86 is the 1st of many new additions to the catalogue in 2018.  In recent years this resource has seen impressive growth, as humpback sightings have outstripped the larger fin whales. Of particular interest is 2015, when in a single year the number of individuals more than doubled from 30 to 66 animals. Was this a once off event a statistical blip? There is a tendency to put a positive spin on such a dramatic and unexpected increase in numbers,  but there is always the flip side, that these could be animals displaced from other feeding areas, and so the drivers for this change may be cause for concern. Still, if you had to chose between having too many or too few humpback whales, you'd always chose the former.

If you are fortunate enough to observe and photograph this species during the year, we'd really appreciate any opportunity to view images of either the ventral flukes or dorsal fins. Each image has the potential to unlock one of Ireland's biggest wildlife mysteries......who are these humpback visiting the Irish southwest, and where are they coming from?

IWDG Sightings Officer, Pádraig Whooley