Waterford still where it’s all happening….or most of it!

A regular effort watch on Saturday 2nd Dec. by Andrew Malcolm and Ann Trimble produced no less than a dozen fin whales and a humpback whale from Helvic Head. On  Dec. 5th Sarah-Kim Watchorn reported upwards of six fin whales and again a single humpback feeding amongst them c4 km east of Helvic (see image). She also obtained drone footage from this feeding event and we are delighted to be able to include some of these images here.

Humpback whale feeding east of Helvic by Sarah-Kim Watchorn

Fin whales east of Helvic by Sarah-Kim Watchorn

Five fin whales feeding east of Helvic by Sarah-Kim Watchorn








Images courtesy of sarahkimwatchorn.com and Joseph Batt

Our 1st thought given that this was a humpback among fin whales was that this could be #HBIRL003 aka “Boomerang”. This was based on the twin facts that he does seem to like Co. Waterford, with 18% of our encounters of this individual since 2001 being from The Déise, and he also seems to prefer the company of fin whales, rather than his own conspecific. Alas, the screengrabs don’t show Boomerang’s white scarred dorsal fin and so it’s clearly another individual. We may have to wait for the current spell of low pressure to pass, and for a return to the colder but more settled high pressure, before we get another chance to ID this animal. So hopefully it will stick around.

There is clearly a herring/sprat spawning event taking place along the Waterford coast, as in recent weeks IWDG have received regular sightings of common dolphins in the River Suir, on occasions venturing as far upstream as Mount Congrieve which is beyond Waterford City. As recently as Dec. 19th Paddy Roche who operates the Waterford Estuary ferry between Ballyhack and Passage East reported upwards of 150 common dolphins heading down river with the ebb. In fact this recent activity dates back to Paddy’s first report to us from Ballyhack on Nov. 17th and since then we’ve had over 30 sighting reports of between 8 -100 dolphins and all images thus far confirm these to be common dolphins.

This feeding opportunity hasn’t gone undetected by larger species, in fact much larger species, as the mighty fin whale has also been reported on at least 13 occasions along the Waterford coast since early November, and if you broaden the search to include whales in the “large whale category” this number increases to 22 sightings, of which many are at the mouth of Waterford Estuary, between Dunmore East and Hook Head.  (See Andrew Watson’s image from Dunmore East Dec. 19th).

Finally, in recent weeks, sightings such as a probable minke whale in lough Foyle, Donegal/Derry and a very late season basking shark off North Co. Dublin are just reminders to expect the unexpected, as everything can’t be coralled into the one County…… Waterford! Dec. 12th was a case in point, when Stephen Frawley filmed a pod of C.12 bottlenose dolphins off Howth Head in Co. Dublin, in itself a rare event; but rarer still that his video also captures the pod attacking a pair of harbour porpoises. We are going to see if we can clean this video a little and will bring it to you then.

As always we really appreciate these sighting reports and would ask anyone who sees cetaceans in this inland catchment, or anywhere else, to report them to IWDG either on www.iwdg.ie or on our Reporting App.

Fin whale blowing off Dunmore East, Co. Waterford Dec. 19th 2023 © Andrew Watson

Common dolphins off Ballyhack, Co. Wexford Dec. 19th 2023 © Paddy Roche

By Pádraig Whooley, IWDG Sightings Officer

This article is available as a podcast in the IWDG Listening Space.