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Humpback whale wows onlookers at Inchydoney

Humpback Whale, Inchydoney, West Cork
Humpback surfaceing close to shore by the Dunmore House Hotel near Clonakilty showing very distinctive dorsal fin markings

Inchydoney beach, near Clonakilty in West Cork, is one of the undisputed jewels along Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way. This outstanding blue flag beach draws visitors from far and wide, but earlier this week it was a visitor of a different kind that was getting all the attention.

The sandy bottom in the bay off Inchydoney is perfect for small fish called sand eels — and earlier this week they accumulated there in huge numbere. Sand eels are a crucial food source for other fish, seabirds, and, in this particular instance, a humpback whale.

Humpback whale inchydoney West Cork
Humpback lunging through shoals of sand eels in c. 3m of water off Inchydoney beach.

Humpbacks are regular, if unpredictable visitors to the Irish coast, so spotting one off West Cork isn’t all that unusual an occurrence. What was unusual in this instance was just how close to shore this whale was feeding. At times it was lunging open-mawed through large aggregations of sand eels in water less than 3 metres deep, and within about 20 metres of the shore.

That’s astonishing for an animal around 7-8 metres long and weighing upwards of 30,000 kg.

A crowd gathered at the roadside under the Dunmore House Hotel, adjacent to Inchydoney Beach, to watch the action as the whale moved up and down the shoreline, feeding in apparent comfort in the shallow water. Its proximity to shore afforded those looking on incredible views of this iconic marine mammal from the comfort of dry land… highlighting that you don’t always need to get on a boat to see these amazing animals from the Irish coast.

Humpback whale surfacing just off Inchydonney, West Cork
Humpback whale surfacing just off Inchydonney, West Cork

The gallery below is a selection of images taken from the Cork Whale Watch vessel, The Holly Jo, which mobilised when news of the humpback broke to secure important photo ID images for the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group (IWDG). Unfortunately the whale never fluked (raised its tail out of the water, as humpbacks often do), probably because the water was too shallow for it to up-end. That made it impossible to get shots of the underside of the tail — the equivalent of a humpback fingerprint — but luckily this particular animal had a very distinctively marked dorsal fin. Those markings allowed the IWDG to confirm with confidence that this is a new humpback record for Irish waters and to add it to the Irish Humpback Whale Catalogue as #HBIRL36.

So, welcome to Ireland, #HBIRL36. Here’s hoping we see you again really soon.


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