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. It was clear that this was something unusual and was clearly none of the whale species routinely observed in Irish waters.
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. This is a new whale species for Ireland, as the Arctic Bowhead whale has never previously been reported in Irish waters.
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 the Irish cetacean species list to 25 species.
The whales was estimated at around c20ft, 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 on May 15th, where it was seen close to the shoreline. In February 2015, a bowhead whale was recorded off the Sciliy Islands, which makes this a remarkable recent run of sightings of this very rare species at these latitudes.
Despite a follow up search by land, sea and air, there have been no subsequent sightings of this individual since the initial sighting on May 29th 2016.
Arctic species are known to undergo “eruptions” when species move out of their “normal” range. These include occasional incursions of Walrus into Ireland. Last year we reported a Beluga from Northern Ireland, only the 3rd sighting in Irish waters and earlier this year a Narwhal was washed up in Belguim in April, the first record of this species in the low country. Are these just coincidences or they a sign of disruption in the functioning of the Arctic ecosystem.
Full story and images http://www.iwdg.ie/news/?id=2631 .
All images are courtesy of Carlingford Lough Pilots.