Whale watching in Ireland

A boat slowly drifts through the Atlantic ocean, all is silent, all is calm. But a killer lurks nearby. This isn’t the start of a horror film, but a maritime activity with fan numbers increasing by the day.

The killer in question? The killer - or orca - whale.

The location? The west coast of Ireland.

The activity? Whale watching.

When it comes to whale watching, the Atlantic is a superhighway. This is where countless whales and other cetaceans (dolphins, porpoise) spend months travelling north to south and back again, constantly on the look out for a good meal.

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Along that route, Ireland’s waters have emerged as a restaurant, always providing a welcome stop off for the gatherings of whales and dolphins. In fact, it’s the very reason why so many avid whale watchers flock to the island each year.

Of course it helps that in 1991 all of Ireland’s waters were declared a whale and dolphin sanctuary. It was the first of its kind in Europe and whale watchers took note.

Whale watching season

So what whales can you expect to see in Irish waters? Among the 24 species of cetacean recorded to date (maybe you could spot number 25?) are the Minke, Fin and Humpback whales.

But as Nic Slocum from Whale Watch West Cork explains, the species don’t all arrive at once:

“Ireland has a long season with different species at different times of the year. Minke whales are the first to put in an appearance along with the Harbour porpoise followed by common dolphins during late July and into August.“

“The larger baleen species like fin whale and humpback do not normally put in much of an appearance until later in the year during the autumn months...October through November. Sporadic sightings can occur through the year of bottlenose dolphins.”


For Nic, the appeal of whales goes beyond their size. These are some of the most intelligent creatures on the planet. To observe them at close quarters is a special thrill.

“They live in one of the most challenging environments, have high intelligence and communicate over great distances,” he enthuses.

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There are opportunities for whale-watching all along the Irish coast. From Wexford in the south east up along the wild west coast as far as Lough Foyle on the border between Donegal and Derry-Londonderry. We choose three to whet your appetite.

Top three: Whale Watching locations in Ireland

1. Where: West Cork

With who: 'Whale Watch, West Cork'

A trip out to sea off the coast of west Cork can be most memorable at dusk. Even more memorable is the sight of sun setting off Cape Clear, Ireland’s most southerly island. Summer evening trips are considered prime times for spotting whales breaching the surface.

2. Where: Carrigaholt, County Clare

With who: 'Dolphinwatch'

Further north, Carrigaholt in County Clare is ideal for those who wish to avoid the high seas. The 160 bottlenosed dolphins residing in the area can always be relied on to surface. And in whale watching season the area's tour operators will know where is best to spot some Fin and Minke whales.

3. Where: Inishowen, County Donegal

With who: 'Inishowen Whale and Dolphin Watching'

The Inishowen coast is a good base from which to strike out for sightings of Orcas. It’s offshore of neighbouring Derry-Londonderry where numerous sightings of the distinctive black and white mammals have been reported. Should you be kept waiting, Inishowen’s uniquely beautiful coastline will keep you entertained.

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