Skip to content
#Open journalism No news is bad news

Your contributions will help us continue to deliver the stories that are important to you

Support The Journal

20 years on, first two humpback whales recorded by Irish group are still swimming together

They were first spotted off the coast of Cork in 1999.
Sep 22nd 2019, 4:38 PM 22,733 16

20 YEARS AGO, Eoin O’Mahony was working on a supply ship based at the Kinsale Gas Field off the coast of Cork.

He often spotted a friendly bottlenose dolphin, who would come close to the vessel and interact with its crew.

While on leave, he borrowed his sister’s camcorder to document the playful creature.

“I recorded the dolphin doing back flips, tail slapping, playing with flotsam and racing with our fast rescue crafts,” he recalled for the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group (IWDG) website.

Soon afterwards, on 15 September 1999, he caught another stunning sight on film: Three humpback whales.

PastedImage-2692 Stills from Eoin O'Mahony's camcorder. Source: IWDG

O’Mahony described what happened next: “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.”

At one stage they were touching the vessel’s port and starboard sides with their pectoral [side] fins. Throughout this entire encounter our bottlenose dolphin was interacting with the three humpback whales swimming between them and our vessel.
I felt like one of David Attenborough’s camera men at this stage, with the peculiar boiled broccoli smell of their spent air every time one of the whales would blow. After about 30 minutes one of them ‘spy hopped’, that is to take a look around above sea level.

News of O’Mahony’s footage reached the IWDG’s Pádraig Whooley. The footage was clear enough to provide identifiable details of individual whales, and so formed the first entries of the organisation’s catalogue of sightings. The animals were dubbed #1, #2, and #3.

And now, almost 20 years on to the date, #1 and #2 have been spotted again, still swimming together, in roughly the same area.

HW2 Source: Frances Bermingham/IWDG

On Tuesday this week, members of IWDG – an organisation dedicated to monitoring Irish whale and dolphin sightings and strandings, as well as campaigning for Irish waters to be declared a whale and dolphin sanctuary – were deploying an underwater recording device, in the hopes of capturing the distinctive song of the humpback whale.

Before that, Simon Berrow, Frances Bermingham, and Nick Massett decided to head to a site where two blows – the visible spray from a whale’s blowhole – had been sighted in previous days.

HW1 Source: Frances Bermingham/IWDG

And sure enough, there were #1 and #2, along with two others, #9 and #48, who were feeding alone.

In a post on their website, IWDG said:

“What are the chances that 20 years on, almost to the day, IWDG under the WhaleTrack project, could document the same pair of humpback whales, and can’t discount the fact that all three may have been present, off the Blasket Islands?”


“With photographic evidence of HBIRL1 and 2 together now in September 1999, November 2004, and September 2019 and further images which put them in the same area in December 2008 and December 2012, the Irish humpback whale catalogue is now entering very interesting territory, as we start to record both individuals and cohorts returning to the Irish Southwest into their third decade.”

Send a tip to the author

Nicky Ryan


This is YOUR comments community. Stay civil, stay constructive, stay on topic. Please familiarise yourself with our comments policy here before taking part.
write a comment

    Leave a comment

    cancel reply
    Back to top