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New whale species for Ireland: Bowhead Whale confirmed at Carlingford

Bowhead Whale Ireland
A bowhead whale photographed at the mouth of Carlingford Lough yesterday — 29/05/2016 — photo via IWDG / Carlingford Lough Pilots.

The Irish Whale and Dolphin group (IWDG) has confirmed that an unidentified whale seen and photographed by the crew of a pilot vessel at the mouth of Carlingford Lough yesterday is a young bowhead whale (Balaena mysticetus).

This Arctic whale species has never been recorded before in Irish water, and fittingly becomes the 25th whale and dolphin species on the Irish list on this, the 25th anniversary of the declaration of Irish waters as Europe’s first official whale and dolphin sanctuary.

“On Sunday 29th May 2016 at 12:15 pm a pilot boat from Carlingford Lough Pilots Ltd. on a routine job observed, photographed and filmed a whale of unknown species just outside the Lough mouth at the Helly Hunter Rocks. They shared one of these images on Cork Whale Watch Facebook Page this morning (30/05/2016),” said Padraig Whooley, sightings coordinator with the IWDG.

“On viewing the image with Calvin Jones [Ireland’s Wildlife] it was clear that this was something unusual and was clearly none of the whale species we see routinely in Irish waters. But the paired nostrils at least confirmed that it was definitely a whale, and so we could eliminate all other smaller cetacean species”.

The consensus was that bowhead whale was the most likely contender, but to confirm Padraig contacted Leo Cunningham of Carlingford Lough Pilots. Leo provided additional information on the sighting, along with more images and video that confirmed beyond doubt that this was Ireland’s first bowhead whale.

Bowhead Whale Ireland
Illustration of a bowhead whale on a stamp from the Faroe Islands (via Wikimdia Commons)

Observer estimates put the whale at around 6.5 metres long, which is small for a species where adult lengths typically range from 16 to 18 metres. That strongly suggests a juvenile animal, and has led experts to speculate that this could be the same animal recorded off Cornwall on 15 May. Another bowhead sighting was reported from the Scilly Isles off the south coast of England in February 2015.

The IWDG describes these as “an extraordinary run of sightings” for this cold water whale species at latitudes more than 2,000 km south of its usual Arctic range.

You can find out more about the bowhead whale in this Wikipedia entry, and in this ARKive species profile.


  • Andrea Mrozeck

    Hello Calvin,
    do you know where the little bowhead whale has gone?
    Have you seen him again?
    Greatings from a whale fan from Germany!

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