Sunday, 3 October 2010

Hopes raised for orca population

TWO “TEENAGE” killer whales recently sighted off the southwest coast may be new visitors to these waters, according to the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group.

The pair of orcas were filmed some 5km south of Skellig Michael late last week during an inshore survey sponsored by the National Parks and Wildlife Service.

Identification records show they are not members of a Scottish pod of killer whales that have frequented this coastline over recent years, according to the whale and dolphin group’s sightings co-ordinator Pádraig Whooley.

“It’s a very hopeful sign, as the Scottish group has not reproduced and is in danger of dying out, whereas this pair could be part of a breeding group,” he says.

A survey team comprising members of Mr Whooley’s group and researchers from Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology was working off the Kerry coast as part of a wildlife service-funded cetacean monitoring project off the Atlantic seaboard when it came across the pair.

Surveyor Conor Ryan spotted the “distinctive blow followed by that unmistakable dorsal fin”, Mr Whooley said, and a second animal was seen in the area several minutes later.

“On occasions, one of the killer whales crossed our bow within 2m of the vessel, while another swam just beneath the surface, keeping a parallel course with us, clearly showing their distinctive ‘tuxedo’ pattern,” Mr Whooley said.

“Having witnessed them in places as exotic as British Columbia, Argentina, Chile . . . and Cork harbour, seeing them at such close quarters in Irish waters really helps reinvigorate one’s commitment to marine conservation.”

Some 14 validated sightings of killer whales were recorded this year in Irish waters, the whale and dolphin group says. Many of these are part of the Scottish pod.

A sample of images recorded last week was sent to Scottish researcher Andy Foote at the University of Aberdeen, who confirmed the animals had not previously been catalogued in the northeast Atlantic. The pair are known as “sprouters”, or sub-adults, Mr Whooley explained. His account of the encounter is published on

Well-known diver and film-maker Monty Halls, who has been working with the group in Connemara while filming a BBC television series, will give a free talk, Capturing Giants: Filming whales, sharks and dolphins around the world on October 7th at GMIT in Galway at 8pm.

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