50% of Irish Humpback Whale ID in West Kerry waters.
Whale Watching Ireland 2018 Irish Whale Watching Dingle Peninsula West Kerry
Despite all the snow [March 1st, 2018] the 2018 Irish Whale Watching Season is fast approaching with Easter just a few weeks away and our marine wildlife boat tours beginning on April 1st. Some early migratory sea birds have already come to our shores like the Manx shearwater, all the way from the coasts of Brazil and Uruguay and we hope to shortly see common dolphins and Minke whales as the sea water temperature begins to rise (presently 8 degrees Celsius) and they return from their breeding grounds in warmer waters (Azores?) and feed on the abundance of forage fish like lesser sand eels that in turn will be feeding on the abundance of zooplankton foraging on the Spring phytoplankton bloom.
Later the iconic and majestic basking shark will come to the surface to feed on the soupy mix of plankton, filtering out the equivalent of an Olympic sized swimming pool of seawater through their gill rakers each day, to ingest the nutrient rich mix. This 5 to 6 week period in mid-April, May, early June when the surface sea water temperature is about 12 degrees Celsius provides an opportunity to view these behemoths, as being fish, and not mammals like whales and dolphins, they do not need to come to the surface otherwise to breath. They are the second biggest fish in the world after the whale shark and the biggest fish in the North Atlantic.
Of course in April and May there are still hundreds of seals on the Trá Bán [White Strand] on the Great Blasket Island as thousands of them from all over Ireland and Scotland have spent the winter on the abandoned islands. They haul out on the beaches and in the coves during March / April as they go through their moulting phase.
When we start our marine eco tours in April we will expect to see puffins on the outer islands, having flown all the way over from Canada to breed on the beautiful Blasket Islands where they hope shoals of oil rich sand eels will again be aplenty for their young chicks in summer 2018
Over 50% of Humpback Whales on Irish Humpback Whale Catalogue were first Photo Identified off West Kerry, Dingle Peninsula, Ireland!
In recent years we have been lucky with humpback whale sightings off the West Kerry coast with approx. 53% (45 animals) of 85 individuals on the Irish Humpback Whale Catalogue first photo identified off the West Kerry coast by Nick Massett of I.W.D.G. [Irish Whale and Dolphin Group]. This is an amazing statistic and indicative of the rich variety of marine mega fauna off the West Kerry coast, particularly Humpback Whales, Minke whales and basking shark. For more information please see www.iwdg.ie
There is such a rich variety of marine wildlife, including avian, off the West Kerry coast for a number of reasons.....
Geographical: Being the most westerly part of Ireland and Europe it is closest to the migratory routes of many species including humpback whales, Minke whales and occasionally fin whales and also the first coastal landfall for many migratory breeding sea birds.
Geological, Water Circulation and Composition: The underwater landscape of the North East Atlantic Ocean around the Blasket islands reflects the nearby topographical landscape of mountains and peaks, except it is submerged and covered with seawater. These submerged peaks are then referred to as seamounts and the area of the seabed around the Blasket islands archipelago is also crisscrossed with canyons and areas of "rough ground" - one canyon extends from Brandon Point to about 30 mls. west of the Blaskets. This exposed position results in big ocean swells "hitting" this most westerly part of Ireland and strong tides and currents running around the headlands, islands and seamounts making the water very disturbed but also bringing rich nutrients from the seabed to the surface waters which in turn give rise to plankton blooms (phytoplankton and zooplankton) and shoals of forage fish (sand eels and sprat later in the season) on which the cetaceans feed.
Estuarine Coastal Waters of Blasket Islands Archipelago are rich feeding grounds for Migratory Cetaceans including Humpback Whales
The sea area from Sybil Head, Co. Kerry to Loop Head, Co. Clare is technically classified as the River Shannon Estuary and Approaches, the biggest riverine system in Ireland and the British Isles with a huge catchment area comprising almost 20% of the land mass of Ireland and this in turn brings lots of nutrients both in natural rainwater runoff from the land which is rich in minerals and sediment, and with Big Agriculture and Big Farming increasing amounts of slurry and artificial fertiliser runoff leading to elevated levels of phosphates and nitrates into the estuarine coastal waters 5 to 10 miles north of Sybil Head and west of Kerry Head and dispersed further west of the Blaskets by the strong tides running outside the most westerly (Dingle) Peninsula in Ireland. This additional nutrient load combined with the substantial natural nutrient runoff from the river catchment area in turn causes massive blooms of inshore plankton so much so that for most of the summer months the water is effectively green with plankton, especially when viewed from above (or from space) over clear sand, as off the beach at Great Blasket Island. This emerald water effect is caused by the different way the light spectrum [red, orange, yellow, green, blue, (indigo), violet] deflects, scatters and is absorbed by the plankton rich water. Phytoplankton, or more accurately the green pigmented chlorophyll cells of phytoplankton, preferentially absorb the red and blue portion of the light spectrum for photosynthesis and reflect green light, so the more phytoplankton in the water the greener it is and the less phytoplankton in the water the bluer it is. These minute phytoplankton use carbon dioxide for photosynthesis to carbon (and are literally "carbon sinks" when the organic matter dies and sinks to the ocean bottom and is buried in the sediment on the ocean floor) and provide over half the oxygen that we breathe on earth so they are a vital part of the overall living breathing planet that we co-inhabit with other species and can even affect climate change. Vast armies of ferocious looking (under the microscope) zooplankton graze on these plankton blooms which in turn are predated upon by shoals of sand eels and sprat ....... the food of whales.
Note: At the moment sand eels are not fished commercially off Ireland but neither are they protected by law. Fishing for sprat (for fishmeal for salmon farms) is unregulated and as a non quota fish can effectively be fished to extinction without breaking any (Irish) laws by industrial style Big Fishing........... so giving rise to serious conservation concerns for all those interested in the safe passage of large migratory whales through Irish and European waters including Humpback Whales off West Kerry and Fin Whales off West Cork and contrary to Appendix 1 (Mammalia - CETACEA - Balaenopteridae) of the U.N. Bonn Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS) signed by the President of the E.U. (1979) and Ireland (1983) as one of (presently) 126 other Party States.