Killer whales seen off Toe Head are on holiday from Scottish isles

August 24th, 2022 11:45 AM

By Jackie Keogh

Two killer whales were spotted cruising off the coast of West Cork recently. They are well known - named even as John Coe and Aquarius – and are part of a pod that habitually frequents the coast of Scotland.

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THE sighting of two killer whales off Toe Head has sparked renewed interest in whale and dolphin watching.

Colin Barnes of Cork Whale Watch confirmed that the two male animals are ‘well known’, having come from a pod that famously hangs around the Hebrides, Shetland and Orkney in Scotland.

‘On average, we see killer whales every four or five years,’ Colin told The Southern Star. ‘They are known animals – called John Coe and Aquarius – from that pod and, once in a while, some of the males, for no reason at all, come for a tour around Ireland.

‘The same two animals were seen off the Blaskets about a fortnight before we saw them, and, the day after, we saw them again heading north.

‘They are well known in Scottish waters, John Coe in particular,’ said Colin, who can offer no explanation how the orca got his name.

He was, according to Colin, named over 30 years ago and has since been photographed many times. Colin, too, has some impressive photographs of the orca on his visits to these shores.

Colin said they usually see lone males so it was ‘a bit unusual’ to see two travelling together.

Colin Barnes described that recent outing as ‘one of our better days of whale watching.

‘After watching hordes of dolphins and a few minke whales,’ he said, ‘we spotted a pod of three fin whales and spent more than an hour watching their behaviour.

‘At one point all three of them made a lunge at a bait ball, rounded up by common dolphins, exploding at the surface in front of us.

‘About half way back, on our way in, we then found the pair of killer whales cruising together, gently to the west, about four miles south of the Stags.

‘We followed them for about an hour,’ he added, ‘admiring their anatomy and style and so had a second session of unforgettable whale watching.’

Meanwhile, the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group confirmed that killer whales have also been observed on seven occasions throughout the north coast, most frequently at the mouth of Lough Swilly.

Further offshore, closer to the continental shelf edge, groups of 75 killer whales were recorded by the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group Sightings Scheme.

The group posted that recent research on the North Atlantic killer whale population suggests ‘foraging movements from the southern coast of Norway to the northwest coast of Ireland around the pelagic trawl fisheries targeting mackerel and horse mackerel.’

Meanwhile, a decision to euthanise a walrus named Freya in Norway has led to concerns that it might have been West Cork’s famous visitor Wally.

That is not the case, according to Pádraig Whooley, sightings officer with the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group. ‘Freya was not Wally. They are two different animals. The tusk length alone would have satisfied us that they are different animals,’ he said.

Wally’s arrival in West Cork caused concern as hundreds of people flocked to the shoreline, and went out in boats, to view him until he eventually went away. The IWDG sightings officer said the Norwegians have a more hands-on approach to marine mammals. ‘But this wasn’t a walrus problem,’ he said, ‘it was a people problem, and the solution to this people problem seems rather extreme.’

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