New humpback whale ‘Orion’ sighted for first time in Irish waters

The whale was spotted around 60 kilometres northwest of Malin Head, Co Donegal
New humpback whale ‘Orion’ sighted for first time in Irish waters

A new humpback whale nicknamed ‘Orion’ has been sighted for the first time in Irish waters.

The whale was spotted around 60 kilometres northwest of Malin Head, Co Donegal, by a marine mammal observer on behalf of the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group (IWDG).

Dr Justin Judge sighted Orion at 9.30am on July 9th, while on board the Marine Institute’s RV Celtic Explorer as part of the annual Western European Shelf Pelagic Acoustic (WESPAS) survey.

This is a dream sighting for a marine mammal observer

“This is a dream sighting for a marine mammal observer,” he 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. It is also my son’s middle name so fitting on both fronts.

“There was a lot of feeding action from a multitude of cetacean species that day, including bottlenose, common, risso’s and white-sided dolphins, grey seals and minke whales.”

‘This is special’

The IWDG confirmed Orion is a new individual, previously unrecorded in Irish waters in the IWDG catalogue, and has been given the catalogue number HBIRL111.

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

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

A new humpback whale for Irish waters, this is special

“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.

The Marine Institute is the state agency responsible for marine research, technology development and innovation in Ireland.

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