WEST Cork is experiencing a bumper year of world-class whale watching, leading to suggestions the region should be developed as a major wildlife tourism destination.
Visitors on trips out of Baltimore and Union Hall are routinely being treated to unrivalled sightings of 10 to 11 humpback whales at a time, weighing up to 30,000kg and between 12-16m in length, as well as hundreds of dolphins.
Dozens of minke whales, harbour porpoises and fin whales (usually not seen until at least July) complete the line-up of spectacular marine life currently in abundance off our coast.
Calvin Jones of Ireland’s Wildlife Tours, who works closely with Cork Whale Watch in Union Hall, run by Colin Barnes, said that some people are even getting to see all five in a single trip, mostly south of Galley Head.
‘You would struggle to find this level of activity anywhere in the world at the moment, including hotspots like Iceland – it’s incredible. Our phones are hopping as the word has gone out to locals, as well as international and domestic tourists,’ he said.
‘The numbers and activity coinciding with the weather is what is unprecedented,’ he added.
‘But people should note that this isn’t a flash in the pan – these animals are here every year. The area should definitely be developed for coastal and marine tourism.’
He said the iconic humpbacks were putting on a great show for the tourists – breaching the water; sticking their heads and tails up and ‘bubble-netting’, whereby a group of them blow a ring of bubbles to trap fish.
‘It’s not the weather that’s attracting them – they come here to feed on small shoaling fish, and weather patterns may be effecting their abundance. But the weather is key to our ability to get out and see them,’ said Calvin.
Nic Slocum of West Cork Whale Watch in Baltimore described recent sightings, thanks to perfect conditions, as ‘absolutely stunning’ with a massive cross-section of animals on show.
‘On a recent morning we had around 250 dolphins rocketing along beside our boat. There’s also been a lot of basking shark activity, which is the second largest fish behind the whale shark. We’ve also come across some humpbacks and lots of minke whales, it’s been a very good year for them,’ he said.
Business, he said, ‘was stunning’ with both local and international visitors, as they marked their 14th year in business and he added that Baltimore is ‘buzzing’ as a result.
A spokesperson for the Chamber-run tourism office in Skibbereen said whale watching trips were a main attraction for people who called to them.
‘About 90% of tourists would take information brochures on the trips,’ he said.