Best time to travel to Ireland

Whale Watching in Ireland

A top experience for nature enthusiasts in Ireland

Best time: March–January

Over 20 species of whales and dolphins live in Irish waters. That makes Ireland one of the best whale-watching destinations in Europe. Its primary spot, West Cork is a habitat to over 12 cetacean species. In the 90s, the Irish government banned any whale fishing activity declaring it a whale sanctuary. The most common species found south and south-west off the coast are harbour porpoise, fin whales, minke whales, and humpback whales.

West Cork offers whale watching opportunities all year round, excluding only the month of February. The minke whale migration brings them to the west coast of Ireland from March to November. Fall and early winter is the best time to spot fin whales (September to December) and humpback whales (November to January). Occasionally, people see orcas and long-finned pilot whales. Dolphins can be watched best from August to December. Thus, autumn provides the most spectacular opportunities to observe giant mammals off West Cork coast.

Whale watching tours here are conducted under the code to avoid harm to marine creatures. The boats offering 4-hour tours leave Baltimore harbour at 9.30 a.m. and 2:15 p.m. Dursey Island, Cape Clear Island, Sheep’s Head, Baltimore Beacon, Seven Heads, Old Head of Kinsale, Toe Head and Galley Head are the best whale-watching spots in West Cork.

Besides West Cork, whale watching activities are offered in West Kerry where it's easy to spot minke whales, common dolphins, basking shark south of the Great Blasket Island and south of Slea Head. Donegal offers tours to spot minke whales, the common dolphin, bottlenose dolphin, basking sharks, the harbour porpoise, and sunfish. Galway offers whale-watching excursions on Letterfrack Bay, Killary Harbour, and the Aran Islands. In Clare, whales can be spotted on Black Head, Kilkee cliffs, and the Shannon Estuary.

Practical info

Where can I go to see whales in Ireland?

Various places in Ireland offer whale watching activities including Donegal, Galway, Clare, West Kerry, and West Cork. West Cork is the most popular spot; whale watching is done with respect to marine life, and there are guidelines to avoid endangerment of sea creatures. There are numerous ideal whale-watching locations in West Cork including Dursey Island, Cape Clear Island, Seven Heads, Old Head of Kinsale, and Galley Head, among others. Show more

What is the recommended time of year to witness whales off the coast of West Cork?

Whale watching activities run year-round in West Cork, except in February. The best sightings of minke whales are from March to November, while fin whales can be seen from September to December. Humpback whales can be spotted from November to January, while dolphin sightings are best viewed between August and December. Autumn is the best time to witness the majesty of these giants in their natural habitat off the coast of West Cork. Show more

Which species of marine creatures can be found in Irish waters?

Irish waters are populated by over 20 species of whales and dolphins, including harbour porpoise, minke whales, fin whales, and humpback whales. In rare cases, one may witness long-finned pilot whales and orcas. Donegal offers marine tours for spotting minke whales, sunfish, the common dolphin, basking sharks, and the harbour porpoise. Show more

What is the Irish government's standpoint on whale-fishing?

Whale fishing has been illegal in Ireland since the 1990s, as the Irish government established a whale sanctuary. The government has implemented preservation measures to safeguard marine mammals; as a result, West Cork was designated as a whale sanctuary. Whale watching tours are conducted subject to defined regulations to avoid any harm to marine creatures. Show more

What other spots in West Kerry offer whale watching opportunities besides Great Blasket Island?

There are various locations in West Kerry that offer whale watching opportunities. Some of the best include the south of Slea Head, where you can see the common dolphin and basking shark. Minke whales are best viewed in the south of Great Blasket Island. West Kerry is known for having many sightings of marine life, and during summer, the Dingle Harbor offers boat tours for dolphin sighting, with Fungie being the big draw. Show more

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