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New humpback whale sighted for the first time in Irish waters

‘Orion’ was sighted around 60km northwest of Malin Head in Co Donegal.

The tail of the humpback whale nicknamed 'Orion'.
The tail of the humpback whale nicknamed 'Orion'.
Image: Dr Justin Judge

A NEW HUMPBACK whale has been sighted for the first time in Irish waters. 

The whale, nicknamed ‘Orion’, was spotted approximately 60 kilometres north-northwest of Malin Head in Co Donegal. 

Marine Mammal Observer Dr Justin Judge spotted the whale at around 9.30am on 9 July while on board the Marine Institute’s RV Celtic Explorer as part of the annual Western European Shelf Pelagic Acoustic (WESPAS) survey.

Judge was there on behalf of the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group (IWDG).

The IWDG has confirmed the humpback whale is a new individual, previously unrecorded in Irish waters and has been given the Catalogue Number HBIRL111.

“This is a dream sighting for a Marine Mammal Observer,” Judge said.

“The individual humpback whale ‘Orion’ has been named after the Greek mythological hunter, since the whale was moving with the fish stocks for food.”

Humpback whales are a migratory species and can be seen in Irish waters throughout the year. The most frequent sightings occur in spring through to early winter when they visit seasonal feeding grounds.

Irish waters are an ideal feeding area for the species, as it is midway on their migration across the Atlantic between Western Africa and Northern Scandinavia.

To date, the IWDG has documented 112 individual humpback whales in Irish waters since 1999, many of which are recorded year after year.

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“Observing any apex predator in its natural environment is exciting but a new humpback whale for Irish waters, this is special,” WESPAS Survey scientist Ciaran O’Donnell of the Marine Institute said.

“Irish waters support a diverse range of marine life, and our annual acoustic survey programme not only monitors the health of our pelagic fish stocks, but also provides data to researchers on the overall health of the wider ecosystem.

“Observing and understanding our ocean, is essential for protecting and managing our marine ecosystems for the future.”

The Marine Institute’s WESPAS survey is carried out annually, and surveys shelf seas from France northwards to Scotland, and west of Ireland.

It is the largest single vessel survey of its kind in the Northeast Atlantic, covering upwards of 60,000 nautical miles every summer.

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