Irish Whale & Dolphin Season West Kerry Ireland S.W.
Minke whale in Dingle Bay
Common dolphin off the Dingle Peninsula
Phronima "pram bug" amphipod
What is the Best Time of Year to See Whales and Dolphins in Ireland?People often ask us "What is the Best Time of Year to See Whales in Ireland?" and our standard response is "In fine weather!" This is because they live in a challenging marine environment (for us as well) and in order to get close enough to see them the weather and sea conditions have to be relatively calm with not too much sea swell so that we can bring our passengers to optimum marine wildlife viewing areas.
But this brings us to another consideration.... We always tell our visitors that whales and dolphins are just a small part of our marine ecology, big in themselves but small in relation to the background ecosystem and that other parts of our marine wildlife are often just as interesting like our seals; basking shark; sunfish; jellyfish - from Portuguese man o'war (not a real jellyfish but a siphonophore consisting of a colony of zooids!) to sea gooseberries and comb jellies and even miniature translucent barrel shaped salps often with the parasitic (more correctly named parasitoid as it "kills" its living host but there is evidence that some of the individual cells remain "alive") pram bug Phronima on which the Queen in the science fiction movie "Aliens" was based who hollow out the living insides and use the body as a live floating den; and also the incredible world of phytoplankton composed of various fabulously shaped and geometrically patterned diatoms and other unicellular organisms. The most wonderful thing of all is that these marine flora and fauna from the unicellular diatoms to the humpback whales are all interconnected in the wonderful web of life, each with their own individual and important niche in the marine ecosystem and each more or less dependent on each other in order to sustain habitats, environment and healthy ecosystems that are to the benefit of all.
......So, "What Kind of Whales and Dolphins are there in Ireland?"
Despite the above info about the richness and variety of our marine wildlife, not to mention our seabirds and our unique Blasket Islands flora and fauna, people still just want to see whales and to a lesser degree dolphins, so below is some info about the 24 different species of cetaceans ( from Greek for "large sea creatures" in reference to Whales, Dolphins and Porpoises) that have been sighted in Irish waters or in the case of the rarer deep water species found stranded on our shores. They are listed roughly in order of sighting abundance or recorded strandings:
1. Minke Whale (Balaenoptera acutorostrata) - our most common whale in West Kerry, present from mid April to end of October on most of our Whale Watching Trips
2. Humpback Whale (Megaptera novaeangliae) - formerly very scarce but now commonly seen in the summer months from May to end of September in West Kerry
3. Fin Whale (Balaenoptera physalus) - the second largest creature on the planet after the Blue Whale, a true Leviathan. Observed later in the Whale Watching Season in West Kerry.
4. Sei Whale (Balaenoptera borealis) - bigger than the Minke and smaller than the fin whale, quite scarce but we have observed one beside our boat moorings in Ventry Harbour.
5. *Killer Whale ( Orcinus orca) - unpredictable migrants whom we usually see about twice or three times a season as they do the Circuit of Ireland from their home base off the west coast of Scotland
6. *Long-finned Pilot Whale (Globicephala melas) - otherwise known as Blackfish, sometimes observed on our Pelagic Bird Watching Trips.
7. Blue Whale (Balaenoptera musculus) - Like the Sperm Whale you have to go to the continental shelf edge 60 miles west of the Blasket Islands to see this massive Leviathan.
8. Sperm Whale ( Physeter macrocephalus) - Present in continental shelf waters, named from the spermaceti oily organ in it's head which in the whaling days was wrongly thought to be a semen reservoir, and also famous for balls of valuable "ambergris" from the protective layer formed around squid beaks in the whales stomach which the whale coughs up and are sometimes found on the shore.
9. Northern Right Whale ( Eubalaena glacialis) - known as the "right whale" as it floated naturally after killing in the whaling days, migrates about 15 miles west of Ireland in mid-June - scarce
10. Beluga Whale (Delphinapterus leucas) - this all white whale has sometimes visited from his home in the Arctic
11. *False Killer Whale (Pseudoorca crassideus) - smaller than his more well known relative
12. Pygmy Sperm Whale ( Kogia breviceps) - likewise to above and as the name implies
13, Northen Bottlenose Whale (Hyperoodon ampullatus) - sadly one freshly stranded on the Great Blasket Island a few years ago; a noble dolphin-like whale with a large prominent melon (forehead).
14. Curvier's Beaked Whale ( Ziphius cavirostris)
15. Sowerby's Beaked Whale ( Mesoplodon bidens)
16. True's Beaked Whale (Mesoplodon mirus)
17. Gervaiis' Beaked Whale (Mesoplodon europaeus) - all these Beaked Whales are rarely seen alive and inhabit deep underwater canyons in the shelf edge area.
* Both Killer Whales and Pilot Whales are classified (possibly rightly) in the dolphin family by some authorities, particularly in America.
...So, "What kind of Dolphins are there in Ireland?"
AS mentioned above Killer Whales and Pilot Whales are probably our most famous dolphin species in Ireland joined by:
1. Common Dolphins ( Delphinus delphis) - present all summer long and large schools from 20 to 200 plus often accompany our Blasket Islands Eco Marine Tour Boat M.V. "Blasket Princess".
2. Bottlenose Dolphins (Tursiops truncates) - Possibly the most famous bottlenose dolphin in the world - Fungie the Dingle Dolphin - lives only 2 miles distant from our home port of Ventry. We also regularly encounter schools of 20 to 30 plus bottlenose dolphins on our Blasket Islands Eco Marine Tours
3. Risso's Dolphins ( Grampus griseus) - often encountered on our Dolphin and Whale Watching Boat Tours from Ventry Harbour. These almost fully white dolphins are a joy to behold underwater as they swim alongside M.V. "Blasket Princess"
4. Atlantic White-sided dolphins ( Lagenorhynchus acutus) - sometimes seen on our Pelagic Bird Watching Trips
5. Striped Dolphins (Stenella coeruleoalba) - most commonly seen offshore
6. White-beaked Dolphins ( Lagenorhynchus albirostris) - most commonly seen offshore
.....SO, "WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN DOLPHINS AND PORPOISES?"
Whales, Dolphins and Porpoises all belong to the Order: Cetacea and within that Order there are the sub-Orders - Mysticetes (whales with baleen plates instead of teeth; two blowholes and expanding throat grooves) and the sub-order Odontocetes ( whales with teeth and one blowhole including dolphins and porpoises). So dolphins and porpoises are smaller Odontocete whales and within the dolphin family Delphinidae there are 41 species of Dolphin worldwide and within the porpoise family of Phocoenidae there are only 6 species of porpoise worldwide including our own Harbour Porpoise ( Phocoena phocoena). This makes the Harbour Porpoise the smallest whale in Irish waters and the Blue Whale the largest whale in Irish waters.
Log of the Whale Watching Tour Boat M.V. "Blasket Princess" Captain Whales Galore 29.05.2018