New whale species spotted in Irish waters

31st May 2016

Image: IWDG/Carlingford Lough Pilots taken 29th May 2016

A species of whale, never before seen in Irish Waters, has been spotted off the east coast last weekend.
The marine mammal is a Bowhead Whale, an Arctic species, and it was photographed and filmed in the mouth of Carlingford Harbour in County Louth.
The sighting has been confirmed by the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group (IWDG) and it is first time in the 25 year history of the organisation that it has recorded a new species of whale in Irish waters.

Padraig Whooley IWDG Sightings Officer, tells the story:
“On Sunday 29th May 2016 at 12:15 pm a pilot boat from Carlingford Lough Pilots Ltd. on a routine job observed, photographed and filmed a whale of unknown species just outside the Lough mouth at the Helly Hunter Rocks. They shared one of these images on Cork Whale Watch Facebook Page this morning. On viewing the image with Calvin Jones, it was clear that this was something unusual and was clearly none of the whale species we see routinely in Irish waters. But the paired nostrils at least confirmed that it was definitely a whale, and so we could eliminate all other smaller cetacean species”.

Padraig Whooley, IWDG Sightings Officer contacted Leo Cunningham of Carlingford Lough Pilots, who has kindly forwarded the IWDG additional sightings information, images and video which confirm this to be a bowhead whale Balaena mysticetus.
Species identification was confirmed through the shape of its rostrum, extremely arched jawline and white chin, plus the fact that in common with most Arctic species, Bowhead whales do not have a dorsal fin and on no images or video footage is there any evidence of a dorsal fin on this individual. So IWDG is confident in confirming this new species for Ireland, bringing our species tally now to 25 species of whales, dolphins and porpoise (cetaceans). By coincidence the IWDG is currently celebrating the 25th Anniversary of the Irish Whale and Dolphin Sanctuary declaration, which was enacted into Irish law on the 7th June 1991. 25 species for the 25th Anniversary.
The whale was estimated at around 20ft, which is small for this species and clearly a juvenile. It also leaves open the possibility that this could be the same individual observed off Cornwall, off southwest England two weeks ago on May 15th, where it was seen hugging the shoreline. In February 2015, a Bowhead was recorded off the Isles of Scilly, which makes this a remarkable recent run of sightings of this very rare species at these latitudes.

About the Author

Ian Carey

Ian is the editor of the Green News. He works as Communications Manger with the Irish Environmental Network.

Bowhead Whale

CONSERVATION STATUS
Least Concern

POPULATION
Approximately 10,000

SCIENTIFIC NAME
Balaena mysticetus

WEIGHT
75-100 tons

LENGTH
Average of 50 – 60 feet

HABITAT: 
This Arctic species is associated with ice floes. Its movement patterns are therefore influenced by the melting and freezing of the ice. Bowhead whales are capable of breaking through sea ice at least seven inches thick with their large skulls and powerful bodies.