"Wild Ireland" Best Season Time Place to Watch Whales in Ireland
Recently a wonderful documentary called "Wild Ireland" was shown on BBC TV and also on TG4 called "Eire Fhian". It showed beautiful shots of humpback whales off the Blasket Islands and Dingle Bay and as a result we have lots of enquiries from viewers about the best time to see humpback whales off the Kerry coast, Ireland S.W.
Our stock answer is that we have whales present here from the start of April to the end of September, on and off, but we need suitable weather and sea conditions to bring passengers to the optimum viewing areas which are often north and/or west of the Blasket Islands and subject to Atlantic ocean swell, strong tides and often choppy sea conditions.
Basically it is a Wildlife Nature Lottery but the best chance of good humpback whale sightings is in calm settled weather conditions. So we advise people to just take a chance and book a date and hope for the best as some of our most memorable sightings e.g. of Killer whales, were unexpected.
We can never guarantee sightings, even in calm weather conditions. The animals are free and it is a big ocean and we are in a (relatively) small boat. But if you come with an open mind there is always equally wonderful wildlife to be enjoyed on our boat trips including seabirds - puffins, gannets, shearwaters - grey seals, basking shark (April to mid-June) and spectacular seascapes and landscapes e.g. Cathedral Rocks, Tearaght Lighthouse ( the most westerly lighthouse in mainland Europe), The Dead Man Island or The Sleeping Giant - "An Fear Marbh". ..So come along and enjoy the trip and if you are lucky you might even see a whale or two!
Humpback Whale Sightings off the Kerry Coast, Ireland S.W.
Since we first began to see whales around the Blasket Islands in 2009 our sightings record from our boat based Eco Marine Tours has increased year on year.
From years 2009 to 2013 sightings were relatively scarce and usually restricted to the period mid-July to mid-October.
From year 2014 a new pattern emerged and we began to have increased humpback whale sightings from end of May to end of September.
In year 2015 our annual sightings doubled and were mainly in the period mid-July to mid-October.
Year 2016 was a record year for humpback whale sightings off the Kerry coast and Blasket Islands with more than double the sightings of 2015 and consistent sightings from mid-April to end of September.
Yet despite all this humpback whale activity off the Irish coast there is still almost nil scientific research on humpback whale ecology in Irish waters - what breeding grounds these whales are migrating to (West Indies, Cape Verde islands or elsewhere?) from the far north and their target food source ( sprat, sand eels or other?) which are very important facts to establish in order to protect these ocean-ranging migratory mega-fauna and most importantly protect and conserve their food source requirements en route (sprat and sand eels) in Irish inshore waters so that they can make it safely through Irish and West Kerry waters to their breeding grounds with reserves of high quality food for their breeding sojourn there where they will not feed for up to two months.
Killer Whale Sightings off the Kerry Coast, Ireland S.W.
Our first recorded Killer whale sighting was of two unidentified animals 10 miles S.W. of Skellig Rock, Dingle Bay on June 30th, 2010 as part of "Inshore Boat-Based Surveys for Cetaceans" [Nov. 2010] for NPWS - National Parks and Wildlife Service - and photo id of dorsal fins forwarded to North Atlantic Killer Whale ID Project [Andrew Foote, University of Aberdeen / Copenhagen]
Our next encounter was with Killer whale known as John Coe* who was travelling with his mother Nicola* seen on an evening tour near the Wild Bank in Dingle Bay on July 19th, 2012.
Our next encounter was on June 12th, 2013 with two unidentified orcas off Clogher Head on one of our Morning Cruises.
There was a gap of a couple of years until June 27th, 2016 when we again came alongside John Coe ( this time unusually travelling alone) from Clogher Head going northwards towards Sybil Head.
All the above would appear to point to the fact that perhaps June and July are good times to expect to see Killer whales travelling through Dingle Bay and The Blasket Sound northwards towards their home base off the Scottish west coast and the rich herring grounds there, having done their annual east coast and westabout summer circuit of Ireland.
Just when we made this assumption about optimum dates to see Killer whales in Dingle Bay and off the Blasket Islands, on October 23rd, 2016 a small group of Killer whales including Floppy Fin* (named after his unmistakable floppy dorsal fin) was seen off Minard in Dingle Bay and a couple of days later on October 25th, 2016 some surfers in Brandon Bay, on the north side of the Dingle Peninsula, got a shock when the same group appeared alongside them about 50 meters from where they were waiting for signs of the next break.
All of these sightings of Killer whales were unexpected and came out of the blue so please don't get too obsessed about best time and place to see whales in Irish waters as the best and most exciting sightings both for passengers and crew ( and presumably surfers) are always the unexpected ones!
* John Coe, (male); Nicola, (female); Floppy Fin, (male); Moon, (male); Comet, (male); Moneypenny, (female); Aquarius, (male); Puffin, (female); and Occasus, (female); are part of the Scottish West Coast Community of Killer Whales now comprising 8 / 9 adults [ female Killer whale Lulu was found dead on Tiree, Scotland in January 2016, and possibly Moon was an unidentified killer whale that died in 2008] and were first catalogued off Scotland in 1992. Some of them at least like to do an annual clockwise circuit of Ireland during the Summer months. If you hop on one of our boat tours you might be lucky enough to see one!
Captain's log written on March 22nd, 2017 (revised March 2nd, 2018) Captain Whales Galore