New species of whales recorded in Ir­ish wa­ters


THE Ir­ish Whale and Dol­phin Group re­cently an­nounced that a new whale species, a Bow­head Whale, has been recorded in Ir­ish wa­ters, bring­ing the num­ber of cetacean species recorded here to date to 25.

Ce­taceans is, of course, the um­brella term used to cover all whales, dol­phins, por­poises and as­so­ci­ated marine mam­mals.

The Bow­head Whale gets its name from its dis­tinc­tive bow­shaped skull. It is an im­mensely stocky an­i­mal; for its body length it is be­lieved to be the heav­i­est of the great whales. And, it is the only large whale that lives ex­clu­sively in the Arc­tic Ocean.

Its great bulk has evolved due to both its very thick blub­ber needed to keep it warm in the cold wa­ter in win­ter and the great mus­cle power it needs to break sea ice to en­able it to create breath­ing holes.

It is an easy whale to iden­tify as, like other Arc­tic whales, it has no dor­sal fin. It also has a dis­tinc­tive white chin. In the im­age above its very nar­row and curved ros­trum or up­per jaw is on the left and is in stark con­trast to its very broad lower jaw, on the right. The white tip on its chin is clearly vis­i­ble sur­rounded by a neck­lace of black spots.

In the im­age, the whale is break­ing the sur­face to spy­hop. Spy­hop­ping is a be­hav­iour prac­ticed spo­rad­i­cally by sev­eral ce­taceans. An an­i­mal slowly rises ver­ti­cally from the deep, pokes its head above the sur­face un­til its eyes are above the wa­ter and ro­tates slowly in a tight circle hav­ing a good gan­der around be­fore silently slip­ping back ver­ti­cally be­low the sur­face.

While on a rou­tine job on Sun­day May 29th, the crew of a pi­lot boat from Car­ling­ford Lough Pi­lots Ltd ob­served, pho­tographed and filmed the un­usual whale at the Helly Rocks just out­side the Lough Mouth. The im­ages cap­tured were shared with the Ir­ish Whale and Dol­phin Group and Padraig Whoo­ley, the group’s Sight­ings Of­fi­cer con­firmed the an­i­mal to be a Bow­head Whale.

The Arc­tic species has never be­fore been re­ported in Ir­ish wa­ters be­fore. What the an­i­mal was do­ing 2000 miles south of its nat­u­ral habi­tat and so far from its home range is un­known.

The Car­ling­ford Bow­head Whale is pos­si­bly still around. Whale watch­ers, sailors and wildlife en­thu­si­asts are en­cour­aged to re­port any sight­ings of a whale to the Ir­ish Whale and Dol­phin Group via their web­site at by click­ing the ‘Re­port a Sight­ing’ link on the home­page.

The dis­tinc­tive Bow­head Whale is an im­mensely stocky an­i­mal and is be­lieved to be the heav­i­est of the great whales

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