Humpback and killer whales off Kerry coast

In the last few weeks Nick Masset of the IWDG has observed both humpback (3) and killer (4) whales from his perches on Slea head and Clogher head. Nick has added vastly to the knowledge of whale activity off the Kerry coast from his constant observation of whale and dolphin activity off the Dingle peninsula which otherwise would have gone unnoticed as oftentimes this is just far enough offshore to be outside the scope and time which we allot to our Blasket Islands Eco Marine Tours. However Nick generously shares his sightings with us in a reciprocal arrangement which means when conditions are suitable to go out "higher" looking for whales and dolphins we can do so in a much more informed fashion. So fingers crossed in the next few weeks we hope to encounter some of these behemoths of the sea on our longer (4hrs) afternoon tours or our specialist evening tour (3hrs) based on best information and sightings from the previous tours in the day.

The humpbacks sighted, by reason of distance, remain unidentified but in the event that they reappear and come any closer we hope to get tail fluke id photos to establish whether they are new visitors to our shores or previously identified humpbacks making the coastal waters off West Kerry part of their feeding grounds.

The killer whales (orcas) sighted were closer to shore and one appeared to have a floppy dorsal fin which identifies him as "Floppy Fin" and part of a family grouping previously seen off Donegal and known as part of the "Scottish group" as they regularly make an appearance there accompanying the herring fleet. Apart from when they are feeding, killer whales are very mobile and most of our sightings around the Blaskets and Dingle Bay have been of pairs or small family groups passing through quickly on their own mission. They appear to have very strong and loyal family ties and are often easier to identify as a group than individually. This particular family group are getting on in years and it is calculated from recorded sightings that "Floppy Fin" is about 45 years old!  Lets hope the pair of juvenile orcas we encountered a couple of years ago south west of the Scelligs make a reappearance  to add to the vitality of the "local" [Scottish and Irish] population.

The connection with Scotland is also evident in the local grey seal population where a tagging programme undertaken by UCC has shown that some grey seals migrate from Scotland for the breeding period around the Blaskets during late Summer and Autumn. At the moment there is a substantial grey seal population staying as summer residents around the Blaskets which is a change from their former more migratory pattern of lifestyle.

There are a substantial number of puffins breeding on Inishvickillan and Inish na Bro and anybody taking our afternoon tour can see "rafts" of them on the water. They are always smaller than people expect as they are used to seeing the images magnified in magazines but we provide binoculars for our guests to appreciate their comical like beauty. Please be aware that they are one of the earliest birds to leave our shores and are rarely seen again after the end of July until they return again the next season to spend summer on the beautiful Blaskets

We have a pair of oyster catchers nesting on a rock right beside the boat mooring on the Great Blasket Island - if you could call laying two eggs in a slight indentation in the rock a nest -and they will spend the rest of the summer defending their two chicks, when they are incubated, from marauding ravens and great black backed gulls who swoop down on them and are pursued by them with great screeching. The ravens in particular are very clever and one sometimes waits nearby on the cliff face while the other tries to get both parents to pursue him and leave the "nest" vulnerable.

Birds seem to like the flat topped mooring buoys of "Blasket Princess" and all summer we regularly had sandwich terns "parked" on the mooring buoy in Ventry Harbour and now that they have migrated somewhere else their place has been taken over by a very obstinate shag who has to be whoosed off the mooring buoy to tie up the boat in the evenings. The sandwich tern is apparently named after a seaside town in Kent called Sandwich (which is actually close to a village called Ham!) but it no longer breeds there - perhaps they should install yellow flat-topped foam filled mooring buoys to attract it back!

We were delighted on May 25th to welcome the Arctic terns back to our shores even though their habitat on Beginish is degraded, as it also is for former over-wintering Greenland white-fronted geese, due to over grazing and marauding dogs and possibly the presence of American mink even though it is an SPA (Special Protected Area) and therefore has the protection of European legislation which the Irish State has the duty to enforce per NPWS and under threat of heavy fines if it does not enforce this basic protection of habitat and birds or worse still comply in its degradation.

In the meantime the Arctic terns have taken the wisest option and are now nesting on outlying rocks and in smaller numbers than previously. Lets hope that something can be done about protecting their habitat and the habitat of all the various birds that breed and over-winter on the Blasket Islands SPA. We are willing to do our bit as stakeholders and volunteers but it is up to the regulatory authority to take the initiative re protection and enhancement of habitat, counting of various bird populations and identification of dangers and threats.

Lets try and make sure the Arctic terns do not disappear from the Blaskets the way the over-wintering population of Greenland white-fronted geese have in the past!

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Ventry / Ceann Trá
Dingle Peninsula, Co. Kerry

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