Tuesday, 4 December 2012

Whales and Dolphins by Andrew Malcolm and John Power

Fluking Humpback Whale by Andrew Malcolm

It might well come as a surprise to many people that Ireland is one of the best places
in Europe to go whale watching. Furthermore, here in county Waterford we are
doubly blessed in that the second largest animal ever to have lived on the planet is
regularly to be encountered not too far off our coastline. At up to 22m in length the fin
whale is only surpassed in size by the blue whale, and visits our inshore waters to feed
on the herring that gather here in huge shoals during the winter months. This explains
the old name given to them by fishermen of ‘herring hogs’
Fin Whale by Andrew Malcolm

For several years these behemoths of the sea have been recorded from November
until March feeding due south of Ram Head at Ardmore, where due to the distance
offshore of up to 15km they could only be viewed with quality watching gear.
However, in more recent years these animals have been spotted feeding very close
inshore from Ballyvoyle Head to Dunmore East. On one occasion they came in so
close to the cliffs under Tankardstown that they could be heard breathing (no need for
any type of watching gear that time!) Remarkably these animals were less than 1 km
offshore in water only 11m deep, so they were more or less ‘paddling’!
Goldfinch Mule by Fran O'Connell

How do you spot a fin whale? Well, as they are of course mammals, they have to
come to the surface to breathe and when they exhale, the 6m high ‘blow’ of water
vapour is quite a tell-tale indicator of its presence. Usually they have a sequence of up
to 10 breaths at the surface with a gap of 10-15 seconds between them before they
dive again. They can then stay underwater for anything up to 9 minutes. Sea birds will often gather around where a whale is feeding in much the same way that they will
follow a trawler, picking up scraps from the whales feast, so if you see a lot of birds
Spoonbill by Andrew Malcolm
in a concentrated spot then that could well be a good place to keep an eye on. These
birds will often also follow the large groups of common dolphins that are also to be
found at this time of year joining in the bonanza of food. These pods of dolphins can
often be widely spread out and include several hundred animals.

Humpback whales are increasingly being seen at this time of year off the Waterford/
Wexford coast. The most charismatic of the whale species to be found off our shores,
they are the only whales that will ‘fluke’, that is lift their tail out of the water when
they dive. The markings under their tail is unique to each individual animal, rather
like a fingerprint is to us, and is used as a cataloguing method to help identify animals
that might return again to our shores or elsewhere in the North Atlantic.

For more information or to report a sighting of a whale, dolphin or porpoise visit
Waxwing Male & Female by Colum Flynn

If you are interested in a trip out from Dunmore East contact Martin Colfer at


The regularly over-wintering spoonbill has returned to Dungarvan for a further winter
Waxwing Male & Female by Colum Flynn
and can be seen from the Cunnigar or Western Bay – best looked for at high tide. Up
to 15 crossbills have taken up residence on the Ballinacourty golf club most easily
seen immediately behind the pier. Three female long-tailed ducks (old squaw in

American parlance) are between the Lookout and the Cunnigar. A hybrid/mule finch
has been showing up at various feeders in Dungarvan. A female surf scoter (north
American duck) is present off the Lookout.
A major influx of waxwings is taking place in both Britain and Ireland. The name
Brambling by Mick Cowming
is derived from the colouration on their feathers reminiscent of coloured wax.
This feature combined with an obvious large crest on their crown makes them
unmistakeable. These beautiful birds feed on berries and can be encountered almost
anywhere even in small urban gardens. Another bird being seen this winter is the
brambling – an irruptive finch. Please report any sightings of either species.

Check out www.waterfordbirds.com for local wildlife updates and submission
of records. If you have any questions or comments, please email them to

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