‘Nothing short of remarkable’: Humpback whales return to Irish coast 20 years after first sighting

A pair of humpback whales first spotted off the coast of Kerry in 1999 have resurfaced to the delight of those monitoring the species.

The enduring relationships between humpback whales and their fondness for the southern coast of Ireland as been confirmed by The Irish Whale and Dolphin Group (IWDG).

Against the odds, a pair of whales first sighted off west Kerry in September 1999 have been recorded in the same location two decades later.

The whales were the first to be logged in the IWDG Irish Humpback Whale Catalogue, which has since recorded hundreds of sightings of the species.

Humpback whales return

The Whales were first spotted in 1999. Credit: Nick Massett

‘To think that they could have stayed together for 20 years in treacherous waters with busy shipping lanes, sonar blasting, ghost drifting fishing nets and plastic pollution is nothing short of remarkable,’ said Eoin O’Mahony, who filmed the same pair of whales 20 years ago, almost to the day.

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The whales were spotted this month (18 September) when members of the IWDG team set out to deploy an underwater recording device, in an attempt to record humpback whales singing.

They encountered four humpback whales, including the pair first two catalogued by the group, who were in close contact, and another two who were feeding alone.

Humpback whales return

A special bond: The whales remained in close contact with each other.

Mr O’Mahony was chief officer on board the supply vessel MV Seahorse Supporter at the time of the original sighting. He started filming when a trio of whales approached.

‘The eight crew on board got excited, about the once in a lifetime opportunity to be in the company of these magnificent creatures who circled the vessel closely for the next hour and a half,’ he said.

‘I felt like one of David Attenborough’s camera men […], with the peculiar boiled broccoli smell of their spent air every time one of the whales would blow,’ he said. ‘After about 30 minutes one of them “spy hopped”. That is to take a look around above sea level.

Humpback whales return

The pair were sighted off west Kerry. Credit: Frances Bermingham/IWDG

‘Four of our crew were standing right by the stern of the vessel when it placed its head vertically on the stern roller. I was filming from the wheelhouse deck and couldn’t believe what I had just witnessed and recorded.’

He added that he thought the recent sighting of at least two of the trio was ‘amazing’.

‘It must be the peaceful southern coast and an abundance of food that attracts them year after year,’ he said.