IRELAND is gaining a reputation as one of the best countries on the planet for whale-watching after record numbers of validated sightings of three different species in recent weeks around the coast.
Marine experts have reported a sharp surge in sightings of humpback, fin and minke whales throughout the summer, which they believe is evidence that the huge mammals are migrating to Irish waters in greater numbers.
The Irish Whale and Dolphin Group has catalogued 32 individual humpback whales which are currently in our seas, most of which have migrated to southern and south-western coastal areas.
But Padraig Whooley, spokesman for the group, said the actual number of humpbacks which have arrived to feed in Irish waters could be nearer to 300.
The news bodes well for the future of the humpback species, of which there are now an estimated 80,000 worldwide, but which were hunted to the brink of extinction before a moratorium was introduced in 1966.
And Mr Whooley believes an increased population of the species is part of the reason why so many more have been spotted off Irish coastlines lately, particularly off Co Kerry.
He said: "If you go back 25 years sightings in Ireland were as rare as snowfall in July. But now there's a growing number of individual humpbacks which we can recognise. We have catalogued 32 of them, but that is the tip of the iceberg as to the real numbers, because they are just the ones we have been lucky enough to see."
Today the IWDG is holding its annual all-island whale-watch day, a free event which members of the public have been encouraged to attend.
Twenty land-based whale watches from headlands around the Irish coast will take place from 2pm to 5pm under the watch of experts from the organisation.
The purpose of the event is to raise awareness of the 24 species of cetaceans - whales, dolphins and porpoises - that have been recorded around the Irish coast and to encourage conservation of the magnificent marine mammals.
For further information, see www.iwdg.ie.