On Tuesday, July 10th 2018, whale watchers on board our whale watching vessel “The Lady Patricia” witnessed one of the most spectacular displays in the natural world – a breaching humpback whale. Lucky for us, on board that day was Joleen Cronin, the very talented Cork based photographer whose image of this acrobatic display filled the back page of a well-known national newspaper. But until now one mystery remained unanswered. Who exactly was this performing whale we spotted off the West Cork Coast?
Thankfully, after consultation with the Irish Whale and Dolphin group we can confirm this humpback to be a new whale for the Irish humpback whale catalogue. Introducing HBIRL90 or “Barnacle Bill”.
What is even more exciting is that the crew at Atlantic Whale and Wildlife Tours were the very first people to document this animal in Irish waters. Weeks later it was re-sighted of the Kerry coast by avid cetacean researcher and expert Nick Masset. Nick has been documenting humpback whales off the Kerry coast for many years and has himself added several humpbacks to the humpback catalogue.
There were two important features he noticed about this whale. Firstly, it never tail fluked, something we ourselves noticed on July 10th. This made identifying the whale difficult. The second feature however was even more striking. The dorsal fin of this animal was adorned with Goose Barnacles. This is not uncommon for this slower moving baleen whale species, but it was the sheer numbers of barnacles on this particular animal that inspired Nick to give it the name “Barnacle Bill”.
It is of course somewhat risky to infer the animal is male as it is incredibly difficult to sex these animals. However we at Atlantic Whale and Wildlife Tours think it “fits the bill” perfectly!
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Article by Christopher O’Sullivan, AWWT tour guide.