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  • Writer's pictureGregory Besterman

Whale Watching in West Cork



Whale Watching in West Cork

There’s something so rich about coming face to face with a world that exists so close to our own but so often out of sight. Ireland is home to a stunning array of wildlife, and any encounters – whether they be of the furry kind, the winged kind, or the type of creature that will always feel just a little unfamiliar – will have a special place in your heart. 

Cork County is home to around 1,200km of coastline, with panoramic views of the Atlantic Ocean and, if you’re lucky, some of its most revered inhabitants. For anyone visiting West Cork between the Spring and the Autumn seasons, we would always recommend booking a boat tour. These rugged, ancient shores have bid their fair share of goodbyes to travellers, but they have also welcomed old friends and new travellers looking to experience something special. 

Gortadrohid, our luxury holiday home in West Cork, is perfectly located for you to reach some of the best spots the area has to offer without needing to travel far. 

From the islands to the strangers below the waves, here are some of our top recommendations for whale watching in West Cork, and seeing this beautiful part of the world from a different perspective. 

Spring: April through June…

Just as it is on land, this is the time to see new life transforming the grey, wintry waters into a hive of activity. The arrival of the minke whales is often treated as a sign that spring is finally here, arriving in around late March and early April. After spending a winter in the tropical waters below the equator, these intelligent mammals return to West Cork’s neighbouring waters for our warmer seasons. 

As the season progresses, a boat tour is a great opportunity to see humpback whales – and trust us when we say there’s nothing on the planet quite like these peaceful giants. 

During the Spring, you may also get the chance to see common dolphins and basking sharks who, as the name suggests, tend to be easiest to spot on sunnier days. Thankfully, West Cork has a very favourable climate – a fact which makes it very popular with so much sea life. 

Seals are a common sight in the area, as spring is pupping season. This is why you’ll often see big crowds of them hauled up on the rocks, under the sun, gathered close together as they nurse their pups. 

You could also expect to see the long-finned pilot whale at this time of year. They’re easily recognisable thanks to their distinctively curved dorsal fins and sleek, black appearance. 

Summer: July through August…

As the mercury climbs higher still, the minke whales and common dolphins will continue to grace the waters of the coast of West Cork. This really is an excellent time to take a trip out onto the water, which is busy with the traffic of so much wildlife hunting, rising for air, basking, or just playing near the surface.  

You may also catch a glimpse or two of the fin whale (also known as the razorback), although appearances for tour boats are somewhat sporadic. These whales are among the oldest whales on the planet and can grow up to 27m long. An encounter with one is not to be forgotten. 

Spotting the sunfish is another bucket-list experience. In the past few years, the sunfish population in Irish waters has been rising, and the warmer climate in West Cork is particularly tempting to these distinctive fish. Like the basking shark, the sunfish likes to rise close to the surface on brighter days – and they’re certainly not difficult to recognise!

Orcas are also occasionally spotted in West Cork’s warmer spots. In 2022, a pair of Orcas known as John Coe and Aquarius were spotted off Toe Head, although they’re more familiar to those on the Scottish Isles. 

At this time of year, you may also have the privilege of witnessing a pod of bottlenose dolphins passing through. Various points off our coastline are frequented by bottlenoses, and your tour guide may just have the perfect spot in mind to take you up close. 

Autumn/Fall: September through October and into November…

As the skies start to change, many of Ireland’s resident creatures depart for warmer climates, but West Cork is among the last spots along its coastline to say farewell. This is still a great time to see common dolphins, minke whales, and fin whales. 

The seals will still be keeping themselves busy – while spring is pupping season, autumn signals it’s time for the pups to be weaned and start finding their own ways onward. Many seals do leave for warmer shores for a more bountiful supply of food, but your tour operator will know the best places to spot them. 

As November creeps in, you may have the pleasure of witnessing the humpback whale’s reappearance in these waters – maybe even lobtailing, which is the term used to describe that coveted shot of the whale’s tail fin rising up out of the water just before diving down. 

The Best Locations to Whale Watch in West Cork

Whale watching really is one of the best things to do in West Cork, and there are many different boat tours operating in the area, all of which are expertly run by people who know these waters like the backs of their own hands. You can trust them to take you to all the busiest spots for spotting the local wildlife, from the birds that nest in the cliff faces to the seals, whales, dolphins and sharks.

Take a look at their planned routes and feel free to ask any questions about the wildlife – each year is slightly different, and an experienced eye will never steer you amiss.

Sites like Bantry Bay, Courtmacsherry Harbour, Castletownbere Harbour, the waters around Roancarrig Lighthouse, and Baltimore Harbour are all excellent locations for busier waters, although it all depends on the time of year – and what the weather is doing that day.

We’d always recommend booking your tour in advance of your arrival, but keep in mind that bad weather can postpone or cancel a boat trip. Also, don’t forget to check on any age requirements for the tours – some boats will only accept children over ten years old for safety reasons. 

And, finally, don’t forget to bring a camera. While we’d always urge you to witness these sights first-hand, rather than through the lens, there’s nothing like capturing a one-in-a-million shot of the magic bound up in the Wild Atlantic Way.  

 

 

 

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