New species of whales recorded in Irish waters

BY Jim Hurley - Nature Trail

Published 25/06/2016 | 00:00

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

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 bow-shaped 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.

Wexford People

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