Movie of whale expedition has its roots in West Cork

November 2nd, 2016 7:15 AM

By Siobhan Cronin

Simon Berrow of the Irish Whale & Dolphin Group led the team to Cape Verde.

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A wildlife movie, which was shown on TG4, had its origins in West Cork.


A WILDLIFE movie, which has been shown on TG4, had its origins in West Cork.

The Humpback Whales of Cape Verde follows an Irish-led expedition that has uncovered the migration habits of the whales in the Eastern Atlantic.

It has changed experts’ understanding of the behavior of these amazing mammals, and follows on from a sister movie, filmed in West Cork, 12 years ago.

‘Ireland – and West Cork – is becoming a bigger part of this story,’ director Tony Whelan told The Southern Star. ‘The story of this movie began in West Cork.’The film, narrated by singer Liam O’Maonlai, was shot in Cape Verde, Galway and Malta, and tracks the journey of Dr Simon Berrow and his team of marine scientists on their adventure to the whales’ breeding ground.

A lecturer at Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology (GMIT), Simon is also the chief science officer with the Irish Whale & Dolphin Group. 

He believes the film will help highlight the importance of conservation in Irish waters. ‘It still comes as a surprise to many that we have whales in Ireland. In fact the numbers here are increasing each year and Ireland is becoming internationally important,’ said Simon. 

‘To understand where whales in Ireland are coming from, or going to, and breeding, is essential to protect them. 

‘This film is part of a 12-year search for the breeding grounds of humpback whales in Ireland.’ 

That search began in West Cork in 2004 when Whelan’s first movie – The Return of the Humpback Whales – was made. In fact, it actually started two years earlier – in 2002.

‘The story started unfolding then,’ explained Tony, ‘West Cork was its starting point and everybody’s heart in this story, is in West Cork.’

The whales were filmed back then out of Reen pier, with Colin Barnes, Padraig Whooley of the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group, and other local whale-watching experts. 

A lot has happened since then, said Tony, including the explosion in whale watching tourism in this area. 

‘We saw one humpback then, but this year 80 have been seen between Ireland and other areas. They go south to breed, but then they move north to feed, anywhere from Iceland to Ireland, and further down.’

‘In the early stages, Colin used to do fishing expeditions and a few whale-watching trips. Now he is exclusively doing whale-watching,’ he pointed out.

Tony says he also spends a lot of time travelling from his native Dublin to West Cork, to stay with his friends, Joe and Fiona Aston, on Sherkin Island – a perfect base for whale-spotting. ‘There is nowhere in the world like Horsehoe Bay when the sun shines,’ he said.


The Humpback Whales of Cape Verde, featuring archive footage from West Cork, is available on the TG4 player.

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