IWDG report on Whale Watch Ireland 2024

On Saturday 18th May the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group (IWDG) delivered another Whale Watch Ireland 2024. All Ireland Whale Watch day, now in its 22nd year, comprises free, guided land-based whale watches, which this year was planned for 11 sites in 11 coastal counties, throughout the four provinces.  The main objective of Whale Watch Ireland is to raise awareness of the 26 species of cetaceans (whales, dolphins and porpoise) recorded to date in Irish waters, and to promote their conservation by highlighting public participation in our successful recording schemes, which encourage members of the public to report sightings and strandings to the IWDG.  This event continues to be one of the largest in the Irish wildlife calendar.

In response to a review of Whale Watch Ireland, we introduced some big changes, the most significant of which was bringing it forward to coincide with Ireland’s Biodiversity Week, thus enabling us to introduce it to a potentially more relevant domestic audience, than was previously the case, when it was linked to Heritage Week.  Another factor in our decision to switch the event was a clear trend of worsening weather in recent years during August, with typically more reliable weather for outdoor events in late May.  We opted to trial this year’s event at fewer sites than in previous years, while we monitored the impact of these changes.

The timing of this year’s event meant fewer overseas visitors to our watches, and that’s ok, as our target audience is ideally people living in Ireland who can contribute to our recording schemes.  For some attending, this was their first encounter with a wild cetacean in Irish waters, which can be a powerful experience.  Those attending at many of the sites were provided with interpretation by IWDG personnel, who have considerable experience regarding cetacean identification, ecology, biology and the conservation threats facing these marine mammals. An assortment of whale artifacts were on view at some sites, and there was plenty of handouts and information sheets supplied by both IWDG and Inis, which included the new “Coastal Whale Trail” map of Ireland, which was designed and printed with funding support from our core sponsors Inis www.seathebeauty.net

This year’s event was attended by 500+ wildlife enthusiasts at 10 of the 11 sites. Our Rathlin Island event in Co. Antrim was cancelled due to persistent fog.  However, this year’s attendance saw a significant increase from 2023, due to the expected  improvement in the weather conditions at most sites and presumably the events association with Biodiversity Week also helped.

This year, most sites (64%) described the conditions on the day as either fair or good and these benign conditions not surprisingly resulted in a higher sighting rate, with cetacean or basking shark sightings at 4 of 10 sites (40%), which compares favourably with the 36% in 2023 and 33% in 2022. There wasn’t really a standout result from this year’s event, but if one had to be chosen it would have to go to Helvic Head, Co. Waterford which enjoyed sightings of 3 minke whales and a small number of common dolphins. Well done to Andrew Malcolm.  Blanks at usually reliable west coast sites such as Loop Head, Co. Clare, Mullaghmore, Co. Sligo and Erris Head, Co. Mayo were attributed to the fresh conditions that prevailed throughout the afternoon, resulting in larger seas.

Selection of images from Whale Watch Ireland 2024


Some locations from top left in clockwise direction:

  • Group watching at Bray Head, Co. Wicklow led by Siofra Quigley
  • Andrew Malcolm in High Viz vest at Helvic Head, Co. Waterford….top prize for best sightings!
  • Serious scoping at Galley Head, West Cork
  • Some Inis promotional material
  • Galley Head lighthouse, led by Pádraig Whooley, with help from local Cork members
  • Slea Head, Co. Kerry started their event with a little help from our Lady…which kind of worked!
  • Nick Massett discussing a selection of whale bones ….fin whale rib.
  • Drone shot from Slea Head
  • Some of the obliging group of 25 bottlenose dolphins that came close to the Slea Hd View point
  • Inis banner at a windy Loop Head, Co. Clare….again!
  • Nimmo’s Pier in Galway City was our wild card in 2024, but it paid off.
  • Selection of 3 images from Mullaghmore, Co. Sligo….big thanks to Rossa Meade & Darren Craig
  • Erris Head, Co. Mayo, lovely image by Adrian Weckler
  • Inis material at start of Erris walk, before the serious work began!
  • Daisy-May Harris alas had to make the call to cancel the Rathlin event due to persistent sea fog
  • Last but not least, Bloody Bridge, Co. Down…big thanks to Andy Carden

IWDG is pleased with the results of this year’s event.  The feedback from the watch leaders was very positive about the new timing and most seemed happy with the decision to run it later in the day between 17:00-19:00.  But we gave watch leaders the option to choose any time to suit local tides and conditions.  It is still, however, easier to promote this event, if as many sites as possible, agree on the same start time, as there is less scope for confusion among the public.

We hope that among those who attended, there will be some new members and dedicated whale watchers who are willing to volunteer some time and energy in furthering our understanding of the whales, dolphins and porpoise that live in Irish coastal waters. Last year we wrote that our challenge, post pandemic, was to find new and innovative ways to rebuild this important wildlife event. This year has seen us take some very positive steps in this direction.

From all of us in IWDG, we extend a huge thanks to both Inis for their continued support for Whale Watch Ireland and the IEN (Irish Environment Network), and last but not least a special acknowledgment to all our local event leaders, who gave up their time to lead their local events and without whom there can be no event. In no particular order they are: Ronan Hickey, Siofra Quigley, Andrew Malcolm, Pádraig Whooley, Nick Massett, Simon Berrow, Marcus Hogan, Tom Breathnach, Rossa Meade, Daisy May Hill & Andy Carden.  

1. Numbers attended: 500+ people

2.  Overall, sightings at 4 of 10 sites = 40%

3   Cetacean species (3):common dolphin, bottlenose dolphin & minke whale
4.  Zero species @ 6 sites, 1 sp. @ 2 sites, 3 species @ 2 sites
5.  Other species: Basking sharks, Grey seals & various seabirds

6. Number animals: common dolphin x10, Bottlenose dolphin x30,  minke whale x 2-3

By Pádraig Whooley, IWDG Sightings Officer & Event organiser