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Two humpback whales return to Kerry after 20 years

Two humpback whales, first filmed in Irish waters two decades have turned up again off Kerry almost 20 years to the day after being first encountered.

Last week, members of the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group (IWDG) set sail west of Kerry to deploy a Soundtrap in an effort to record humpback whales singing in Irish waters.

The Soundtrap is an underwater recording device and was deployed as part of WhaleTrack Ireland, a project funded by Ryanair’s Carbon Offset programme.

The team of Simon Berrow and Frances Bermingham had set out with Nick Massett to deploy the Soundtrap where, three days earlier, Nick had recorded up to five whales south west of Inishvickillane.

As Nick had seen two blows west of Inishtooskert, the team decided to head there first.

The group encountered four humpback whales including, to their amazement, whale (catalogue) numbers #1 and #2, who were in close contact, while catalogue number #9 and #48 were feeding alone.

These were the first whales entered into the IWDG Irish Humpback Whale Catalogue when they were first photographed 20 years ago in September 1999.

Images were of the whales were promptly sent to IWDG Sightings Officer Pádraig Whooley.

He said: "I was amazed. Only a few days ago I was drafting a short piece for IWDG on our latest sighting of the humpback whale known as “Boomerang” or HBIRL3, which brings to 14 (out of a possible 19) the number of years we can confirm he has returned to Irish waters.

"He is clearly a record breaker, as no humpback whale has been seen as many times with so many inter-annual re-sightings as #HBIRL3."

Pádraig added: "But there is one record that Boomerang does not hold; which is the longest sightings history.

"This record goes to the numbers 1 and 2 on the catalogue and date back to Eoin O’Mahony's iconic video footage from the Kinsale Gas fields, off the Cork coast on 15 September 1999″.

Eoin O’Mahony said: "I was surprised to get a call from Pádraig (Whooley), and even more surprised to hear that the two humpback whales I had filmed 20 years ago, nearly to the day had been positively identified by the IWDG off west Kerry."

"It all started over 20 years ago when I was Chief Officer on board the supply vessel MV Seahorse Supporter.

"We were based at the Kinsale Gas Field, 28 nautical miles offshore from the County Cork coast.

"The 15th September 1999 was just another routine day out on the Gas Field, or so we thought. I was off watch asleep when the Captain burst into my cabin waking me up.

"In an excited west Cork accent he said… “where is your camera, we have whales in the gas field.

"I got dressed and ran up to the wheelhouse, where the camcorder was charging,” O’Mahony said.

"I was filming from the wheelhouse deck and couldn’t believe what I had just witnessed and recorded.

"By now the gas platform workers were aware of the goings on beneath them. VHF radios started up between platforms and the ship with chatter,” he added.

"I think last week’s sighting of at least two of this trio from the Blasket Islands is amazing.

"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.

"It must be the peaceful southern coast and an abundance of food that attracts them year after year,” O'Mahony said.