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Humpback Whale Catalogue breaches 100 animal milestone

The Irish Whale And Dolphin Group‘s (IWDG) Humpback Whale Catalogue has broken the 100 individual milestone.

Whalewatching in West Cork: Humpback and common Dolphin
A breaching humpback whale alongside a surfacing common dolphin off the West Cork coast.

On the 20 July IWDG researcher Nick Masset photographed two new Humpback Whales off the coast of West Kerry, and HBIRL#100 and HBIRL#101 took their respective places in the photo ID catalogue that documents every individually recognisable Humpback Whale recorded in Irish waters.

Irish Humpback Whale Catalogue Milestone Reported by RTÉ

The Irish Humpback Whale Photo ID Catalogue began life in 1999, when IWDG researchers grabbed a frame showing the unique markings on the underside of the tail fluke from video footage of three Humpbacks filmed off the Kinsale gas fields. That whale became HBIRL#1: the first ever individually identifiable humpback recorded in Irish waters.

Initially, growth was slow but steady, as the IWDG recorded individual Humpback Whale sightings from around the Irish coast; collected, collated and cross-referenced photographs; and diligently added new animals to the database.

By 2010 the tally stood at 12 animals. Then, in the second decade of the new millennium, humpback sightings picked up off the coast of first West Cork and, increasingly, West Kerry. In 2015 alone, catalogue numbers doubled, leaping from 33 individuals at the start of the year to an incredible 66 by year-end.

Humpback Whale Ireland's Wildlife Tours
A humpback whale surfacing off the West Cork coast in 2018

As 2020 began the catalogue sat at 97 individuals. Researchers were hopeful this would be the year they’d break that magic 100 humpback figure.

“It’s an important milestone and gives us a little space to reflect on just how far we’ve come with this long-term monitoring project,” said Padraig Whooley, Sightings Officer with the IWDG. “By the end of 1990’s we had just two humpbacks documented, this was thirteen by 2010, but to have reached 100 by 2020, although not quite exponential, is remarkable and surely mirrors the global recovery of this most iconic species.”

The same week, the IWDG also received a third match between the Irish Humpback Whale Catalogue and an animal photographed at tropical breeding grounds, when they confirmed a Humpback Whale photographed off Boa Vista in the Cape Verde Islands in February 2020 matched HBIRL#73 in the catalogue, last photographed off the Blasket Islands in June 2019.

With more whales, more re-sightings and increasing matches to both high-latitude feeding grounds and tropical breeding grounds, the Irish Humpback Whale Catalogue is going from strength to strength as a long-term conservation tool for this iconic cetacean species.

“It’s a great story and one IWDG look forward to sharing with you over the next 21 years,” said Padraig. “It seems humpback whales have an endless capacity to inspire both whale watchers and whale researchers alike.”

The Irish Humpback Whale Catalogue (Image courtesy of IWDG.ie)

If you spot a Humpback Whale in Irish waters you can help add to the IWDG’s understanding of the species, and contribute to the catalogue, by reporting your sightings, and sending in any photographs, via the IWDG’s Online Sighting system.

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