West Cork Ocean Tours: Spotting a Humpback Whale in Ireland

Deciding to leave Scotland to spend time exploring Ireland and beginning the process of building up a presence there was a big move for us. I’ve been in a long distance love with Ireland ever since I remember. I’m a huge traditional and folk music lover, I listen to Irish pub songs over coffee and amongst sea shanties. Stories of old make my soul sing. For this trip, I deliberately had no expectations. Not because I didn’t think Ireland would deliver, but because I wanted to be entirely in the moment. As long as I got to snorkel and swim whilst slowly exploring the coast, I’d be happy. Happiest when wet.

West Cork Whale Watching

Humpback whale blowing off the coast of IrelandUpon visiting West Cork, we connected with a local wildlife photographer, Dan from Into The Wild Ireland. He had shared a spectacular video of a humpback whale bubble feeding off the coast of Tow Head, Co Cork. I fell in love. Aye, not with Dan (although if the shoe fits), but with the humpback. I then went on a total following spree on Instagram; following marine biologists, divers, photographers and others who also had a deep passion for the coast. I’d done this in Scotland, but never Ireland. That’s because I had no idea how much the Irish coast had to offer. I’m now completely addicted to these accounts, my news feed has never looked more beautiful.

During this Irish coastal follow frenzy, I started seeing more and more photos of minke whales and the majestic humpback popping up in West Cork and Kerry. We just happened to be in County Cork at the time. I never thought I’d be lucky enough to spot a humpback whale in Ireland!

Upon seeing my bordering-on-obsessive stories about whale watching and the general ocean theme on my page, Dan was kind enough to share a place we could whale watch from the shore. And so we did. For those three days in a row, we watched the horizon and for those three days in a row, we saw Mr humpback blow on the horizon, and on the third day we were treated to a tail fluke. I cried, it still makes me emotional. He wasn’t on his own either, he was accompanied by 3 minke whales. It was one of the most spectacular things I’d ever seen.

But it did not stop there, this was only the beginning.

West Cork Ocean Tours

Humpback whale dorsal fin of the coast of Cork, IrelandAgain, with thanks to Dan, we found Rory at West Cork Ocean Tours, a local skipper who’d spent 30 years on the sea. He has a small boat, the MV Kerry Head and he takes small groups of tourists out on sea life adventures. Rory, alongside Dan, is nothing short of an ambassador for both the ocean and for the Cork coast. From the moment we met him, on a sunny afternoon in God’s country, I just knew he was exactly the kind of person I’d want to encounter wildlife with. He was knowledgeable, courteous, an open book and the perfect example of someone who both loves and appreciates but also respects the ocean.Stag rocks, County CorkIt was an early rising tide as we sailed out of the bay, past the Stag Rocks and on to the open ocean. It was choppy, windy and the sun’s glittering reflection on the waves was verging on magical. I had a good feeling, but I didn’t want to get ahead of myself. We headed West to the rough location in which the humpback had recently been spotted.

The Rockstars of the Ocean

And sure enough, there he was, blowing in the distance, accompanied by 2 minke whales and a large pod of playful dolphins, as though the ocean was his and we were nothing more than a puffins feather blown down on to the tide. Rory shut off the engine. The humpback was happily feeding on the thousands of shimmering sprat under the surface while endless seabirds took advantage of his graceful display. He disappeared for a moment, before the sprat headed directly under the MV Kerry Head. The next thing, bubbles began to appear around the boat, I could feel nothing in that moment except absolute awe. Before we knew it, he breached the surface, only a couple of metres from us.

If I didn’t already see humpbacks as the rockstars of the ocean, dulcet tones echoing in the deep, this one surely cemented it with a rockstar appearance, his fans nothing more than babbling goo in the wake of his fin.

We can’t thank Dan or Rory at West Cork Ocean Tours enough for making our experience in County Cork, but also for continuing to be respectful and fantastic representatives for the Irish coastline. Thank you both for helping to make one of my biggest dreams come true. 



The Chief.