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Thursday 22 August 2019

Boomerang always returns to lead the way for humpback whales

REGULAR VISITOR: Boomerang, seen here off West Cork last year, has a distinctive dorsal fin due to damage by a shark
REGULAR VISITOR: Boomerang, seen here off West Cork last year, has a distinctive dorsal fin due to damage by a shark

Lynn Kelleher

The official catalogue of humpback whales recorded in Irish waters has swelled to almost 100 - as ever-increasing numbers of the gigantic mammals visit our coast.

The most frequent visitor is now officially a whale fittingly called Boomerang who was logged in Irish waters last month for the 13th year since the turn of the century.

Known as Boomerang, or his official name of HBIRL3, the most photographed of the majestic marine tourists stands out due to his distinctive dorsal fin damaged by a shark or a killer whale.

As humpbacks are no longer hunted, the numbers making the journey from the tropics to the rich Irish feeding grounds is expected to rise.

Boomerang - first spotted by whale-watching operator Colin Barnes in west Cork in August 2001 - is among the 93 whales in the Irish Humpback Whale Catalogue.

Dr Simon Berrow, from the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group, said there were now an average of 10 new whales recorded close to the coast every year but Boomerang is the most regular visitor.

He said: "Boomerang keeps coming back, that's where he got his name. The catalogue keeps increasing.

"It took us 15 years to get to 30 whales in the catalogue and we doubled it in a year and now on average we add about 10 a year."

While humpback whales are identified by their tail fluke similar to a fingerprint, Boomerang is easily recognisable due to his damaged fin. "His dorsal fin has been like that forever since we photographed him in 2001 or 2003," said Dr Berrow.

It is thought he could have picked up the scars at the tropical breeding grounds to where they migrate every year.

"They do pick up an awful lot of wounds from the breeding grounds," said Dr Berrow.

"One of the things you have in the tropical waters where they breed is sharks, they do carry a lot of shark damage and also killer whale damage."

Dr Berrow believes the growing population of humpbacks returning to our shores is a testament to the quality of the ocean around Ireland.

He said that at 13-plus, Boomerang must be a fully mature adult male. "Obviously he wouldn't come back if he didn't get what he needed. There is no romance in whales. You have to look after the whales and to do that, you have to look after the food."

He said it was important to ensure sprat and herring remain plentiful for the humpbacks. "If we don't look after the food they feed on, they will go elsewhere."

Dr Berrow said the humpback whale-watching season had stretched to almost 10 months of the year.

"The season is extending. The first whales arrive back in April and they have been off West Cork a lot. Then the humpbacks went up as far as Kerry and Clare. It's really nearly 10 months of the year we have humpbacks in Irish waters, it's fantastic," he said.

Sunday Independent

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