In 1991, Irish waters were declared as Europe’s very first Whale and Dolphin Sanctuary. To date, there has been sightings of a whopping 24 different Whales and Dolphins on our shores! As you can imagine, there is no better place for wildlife enthusiasts and whale watchers, than the 2,500km of road along the Wild Atlantic Way! Here is a short guide to some of the Whales you are most likely to see on Irish coasts – although they are not always visible and sometimes as hard to find as hens teeth or leprechauns! – Good luck!
Fin Whale. The fin whale is the most commonly seen whale in Ireland and is nicknamed the Razorback (due to the distinct ridge along their back, coming from their dorsal fin). They can grow upto 24 metres long and weigh up to 130 tons! Making it the second largest living animal on earth (the blue whale is the largest). The Fin Whale can live up to 90 years old. They are solitary mammals who prefer traveling alone or in small pods, unlike other whales who prefer building long-lasting family bonds and relationships with large groups.
Minke Whale. The Minke Whales arrives in Ireland in March and continues visiting until the winter months. They grow upto 10m in length and can weigh upto 9,200kg. The females are often larger than the males. They have a sharply pointed snout, straight mouthline and a long ridge along the head leading to two blowholes – quick and short blows, reaching up to 3m. They are the second smallest of the baleen whales and are generally only spotted in calm waters, due to their size. They are mostly solitary animals often travelling alone or in small pods of 2-3 whales. They may occasionally be seen swimming in larger pods during feeding or foraging.
Humpback Whale. The humpback whale, once hunted to the brink of extinction, now number about 80,000. They were hunted for oil, meat and baleen. They grow to an average of 40-60 feet long and weigh up to 44 tons. Again, males are smaller than females and grow to about 46 feet. Whales can be identified individually by their tail, as each one is unique – like human fingerprints. Humpback whales are known for their beautiful songs that they use to communicate. The song is made up of a mixture of moans, cries and howls can be heard underwater for many miles. Whales songs are more common during mating season.
Orca. Orca’s, commonly known as ‘Killer Whales’ got their name, not that they typically attack humans but because of their ability to take down large marine animals like sea lions and whales. They can be easily identified by their long dorsal fin and black and white colouring. Just behind the dorsal fin, there is a patch of grey and this is called the ‘saddle’ because it looks like a riding saddle Orca’s are very social animals and live in pods of up to 40 members. There are two different types of pods, a less aggressive ‘resident pod’ who prefer to hunt for fish. And a more aggressive ‘transient pod’ who act very like a wolf pack, hunting marine mammals by working together.