Well, one down and hopefully many to come. We couldn’t have asked for a better start to what we hope will be a long and fruitful partnership with the Centre of Excellence for Climate Action & Sustainability (CECAS). With over 30 whale enthusiasts booked on, most staying residentially, and high pressure establishing, the omens were good.
Course participants started arriving at the former Myross Woods House retreat, just outside Leap village on Friday afternoon, with many of our participants joining us for the optional land- based watch at Cloghna Head, looking into Rosscarbery Bay. This was more about trying to establish what was out there, so we could make a more informed decision on the following day’s boat charter. It was worth the effort as it confirmed our suspicions that there was little by way of larger blubber east towards Galley Head. It did however produce a few distant common dolphins offshore.
We returned to CECAS’ lecture room for our welcome and introduction to Cetacean ecology and Biology. It’s a fine space with room for up to 100+ people, so we could set up a whole range of cetacean related objects such as skulls, jawbones, ribs, baleen, teeth etc. This is something we could never do properly when we delivered similar weekends on Cape Clear Island, due to the logistics of carrying these resources on and off the ferry and then around a very hilly Island. Our first presentation ended with a long Q&A and finished up around 22:00. Most participants were tired after the drive down and with a full agenda for the following day, people were happy to chat for a while before retiring early to their rooms.
After breakfast, which was a simple affair with tea & coffee, cereal, fresh fruit and toast, the group met at 08:45 in the lecture room for our 2nd presentation covering the IWDG recording schemes, fieldcraft and thorny subject of species ID. This took a little longer than planned as after a good night sleep, it seems the group all of a sudden had lots of questions, which is a good thing, and we didn’t finish up till around 10:30am. We car-pooled, heading back to nearby Cloghna Head for our first official watch of the weekend, which once again turned out to be quiet, with just harbour porpoises seen… by some! But it at least confirmed that we should concentrate on the western sector on the afternoon boat trip. We stopped off at the Warren Strand in Rosscarbery for a quick dip before returning to CECAS for a light lunch, which set us up nicely for what is generally the highlight of any IWDG weekend in West Cork, the whale watch boat trip.
Due to our large group size, booking any of the local whale watch boats wasn’t an option due to their 12 person passenger licence restrictions. We’d really have required three such boats and this would never be satisfactory, as it of course would mean splitting up a group that’s only starting to bond nicely. So a big thanks to Karen Cottrell of Cape Clear Ferries for facilitating our combined group of 31 people for a 4 hr pelagic on their new vessel the MV Charrig Mhor, which operates out of Baltimore.
Our first priority was to see the fabulous feat of engineering that is the Fastnet lighthouse. It never disappoints. Again, other than a single harbour porpoise passing Sherkin Island, things looked ominously quiet and after 2.5 hrs, our single porpoise was our sole sightings and things were starting to look a little bleak. But the Gods were with us and a decision to track south east into the Deep Hole area paid dividends when we started picking up minke whales and common dolphins in an area that had lots of grey seals, Manx shearwaters, gannets and even puffins. Things all of a sudden started looking up. There was a sense that it was only a matter of time before something larger appeared, but we needed it to happen fast as we were by now three quarters through our trip and still along way offshore. But before long we started picking up very large surface disturbances, then large bushy blows, and within minutes a “Big Winged New Englander” appeared and in that moment everything changed.
With lots of big lens and plenty of experienced whale photographers among our group, we were soon analysing images and it became clear once we viewed images on larger screens that the one humpback we photographed was known to the Irish Humpback whale catalogue as #HBIRL67 and the North Atlantic Humpback Whale Catalogue as NAHWC #10,435. An adult female, she was first documented by IWDG on April 12th 2016 in Dingle Bay, Co. Kerry, and has been confirmed in Irish southwest waters each year since, bringing this latest observation to 37 sighting events over 7 consecutive years, with a near 50:50 split between the two feeding areas in west Cork and west Kerry. Her last known sighting was in the waters to the northwest of Loop Head, Co. Clare on July 19th 2021. With humpbacks now added to our trip cetacean tally of harbour porpoises, common dolphins and minke whales, we returned to port, somewhat euphoric…..and hungry.
Straight back to CECAS for our evening meal, which was an outdoor BBQ with lots of vegetarian options, washed down by whatever tipple course participants wished to bring along. This meal was a real success and people were very pleased with both the high standard and quantity of the food prepared by the staff at CECAS and of course the exceptional value for money. This was a lovely social occasion with a really nice group of like-minded people brought together by their appreciation of whales and our natural world.
We gave course participants the luxury of a wee sleep-in on our final day, with breakfast set for a 09:00 am start. Once finished and the traditional group photo taken, rather professionally may I add by Denis O’ Regan (IWDG Cork Group), we checked-out of CECAS and headed east in convoy towards Ardfield for our 3rd and final land-based watch at the signal tower near Sands Cove, which offers good views into Clonakilty Bay and across to Sevens Heads. Again, things were very quiet on the blubber front, and only produced a sighting of a pair of porpoises close to shore, despite the glorious conditions.
So with this 70 minute watch over we said goodbye to some of our group, while the swimmers and dippers among us, heading down to Red Strand for a swim in its famously clear (and cool) water. What a perfect way to end a fabulous weekend, which had it all……a great venue, nice people, glorious weather and of course some stunning marine megafauna. We look forward to our next IWDG weekend whale watching course at CECAS in Sept. 23rd– 25th , which has a few spaces available for bookings on Eventbrite. See link below:
We’d like to take this opportunity to thanks our hosts at CECAS who couldn’t have been more helpful in assisting us set up the template for our first IWDG weekend course at this very special venue; big thanks to Ana Ospina and Trish Lavelle in particular. This fantastic resource is open for accommodation bookings on Air B&B, and we look forward to delivering many more such IWDG weekend events at this venue in the years ahead. www.cecas.ie
We’d also like to thank Karen Cottrell and skipper Shane and crew of the Cape Clear Ferry Company who run the new MV Charrig Mhór, you couldn’t have been more helpful in assisting us with a boat platform for our pelagic trip. She was the perfect vessel for our large group.
Finally, a big thanks to all 30 course participants for supporting IWDG’s conservation work of the IWDG by taking part in this weekend. We hope you enjoyed the experience and learnt a little something about our work in the process and that as new IWDG members, you’ll become actively involved in the group at local level.
Enquiries or further details, email firstname.lastname@example.org , Ph. 00 353 (0)86-3850568