Whale and Dolphin Watching
Ireland’s government declared the coastal waters of Ireland a whale and dolphin sanctuary during the early 1990’s. The first of its kind in Europe, this paved the way for whale watching in Ireland to become a prime activity for our many visitors.
In West Cork, you are in one of Ireland’s prime locations for Whale and dolphin watching. This part of Ireland is celebrated by whale and dolphin enthusiasts the world over.
Coastal waters off the southwest of Ireland are a summer feeding ground for a number of whale species and a year round home for several resident dolphin species including the Harbour Porpoise. Baleen whales commonly seen off the south coast include Fin whale and Minke Whales. This makes for some of the best whale watching in Europe. Humpback whales are also seen of the southwest coast. These large marine mammals feed in Irish waters for over seven months of the year on a variety of small shoaling fish and may be seen just a few kilometres offshore.
To date, 24 species of the world’s whales and dolphins have been recorded in Irish waters. In recent years over 12 cetacean species have been seen in the clear, unpolluted West Cork waters making this one of the richest areas for whale and dolphin watching in Ireland. Irish whale watching has definitely taken off in West Cork with wide species diversity present for over half the year. Minke Whales arrive off our coast starting in March. Fin Whales traditionally arrive in the late summer/early autumn . Both species continue through to the early winter months, providing some spectacular opportunities to view these large marine mammals only a few kilometres from the coast if the sea conditions are suitable . The less predictable Humpback Whales traditionally arrive during autumn months.
Other species that may be seen off West Cork are:
March to May -Risso’s Dolphins
March to November –Minke Whales
April to July – Basking Sharks
July to August – Atlantic Sunfish
August to December – Common Dolphins
September to December – Fin Whales
November to January – Humpback Whales
Other species of dolphins like the Atlantic white sided, the white beaked, the long finned pilot whale and killer whale are seen less frequently. Although sightings of the large Baleen Whales is the highpoint of any whale watching in West Cork, we must not lose sight of the fact that West Cork plays host to resident populations of Common Dolphins and Harbour Porpoises which may be present in considerable numbers as they move inshore during the summer months. In addition, there are frequent sightings of other dolphin species at different times throughout the year including Bottlenose Dolphins and Risso’s Dolphins.
Sightings have also been recorded of Killer Whales (Orca), Long-finned Pilot Whales, White Beaked Dolphins and Atlantic White Sided Dolphins. It is common to see the Irish seal when out on the water. Here you can meet two species of seal, the Atlantic Grey Seal and the Common Seal.
The Irish Whale and Dolphin Group: