The second largest mammal of earth, the mighty fin whale (Balaenoptera physalus) is frequently seen in Irish inshore waters during the autumn and winter months. A pelagic species that spends most of their time well offshore; these large baleen whales move into coastal waters off the southern Irish coastline every year in search of the herring shoals on which they feed. Numbers vary each year but Ireland is one of the few locations in the world where fin whales can be seen with a land backdrop as they venture as close as a few hundredmetersoff the rocky shoreline.
Little is known of the movement patterns of this large cetacean in the northern hemisphere but the north Atlantic population is considered to number in the region of 14,000 animals. Whaling activities were responsible for the serious decline in their numbers globally but a moratorium on commercial whaling put in place in the mid 1980’s saw an increase in their numbers both north and south of the equator. Inclusion of this “at risk” species in the current commercial whalingcampaigns of Iceland and Japanmayjeopardizetheir precarious conservation status.