WEST Cork is set for another bumper marine tourism season, with an abundance of dolphins, basking sharks and humpback whales seen off our coast – well over a month ahead of schedule.
Last summer’s exceptionally warm weather resulted in big numbers of marine mammals in our waters, which attracted a huge number of tourists and put us on the map as one of the world’s best whale-watching locations.
And now all the signs are pointing to this summer being as busy as 2018.
Zoologist Nic Slocum of Whale Watch West Cork in Baltimore said 2019 has seen an increase in both the number of groups of common dolphins, and the size of those groups.
‘On average, we are seeing groups of over 100 animals in each group, with lots of juveniles present. This would suggest the short-beaked common dolphin is doing quite well and that there is sufficient feed to sustain these animals,’ said Nic.
However, he said the most remarkable sightings so far this year are the basking sharks, delighting both domestic and international tourists.
‘They have been spotted very early,’ he said. ‘First sightings were seen mid-April, which is considered early as May would normally be the month where we get the greatest number of sightings of this animal, the second largest fish in the world.’ He believes it may be because of the unseasonably warm sunny weather we had in April, resulting in early plankton blooms, facilitating surface feeding.
‘Traditionally we would expect to see humpbacks in the autumn months around October and November, but during the past four years we have been having first sightings of these charismatic marine mammals much earlier, during May and June,’ he added.
But he added a note of caution: ‘Whilst it’s a delight to see these remarkable marine species, it may not be all good news if oceanic temperatures continue to rise and acidity levels increase as we continue to pump carbon dioxide into the environment unchecked,’ he said.