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Whale Watching & Dolphin Watching on the WIld Atlantic Way

Almost one third of the world’s species of whales, dolphins and porpoises, collectively known as cetaceans, have been recorded in Irish waters. In 1991 the Irish government declared Irish waters a whale and dolphin sanctuary – the first of its kind in Europe – and the Wild Atlantic Way is at the very heart of some of the best places to see these beautiful creatures.

Cetaceans tend to prefer wild and pristine habitats, and Irish whales and dolphins are no different. The rich and diverse waters along the 2,500km route provide both year-round sanctuary for some species and a seasonal refuge for others migrating through Irish waters.

The Irish Whale and Dolphin Group’s website www.iwdg.ie can be used by visitors to learn more about which species can be seen, where and when, as well as updates on the very latest sightings along the Wild Atlantic Way for whale and dolphin watching.

Of the 24 cetacean species that have been recorded in Ireland, 17 have been seen along the Wild Atlantic Way and eight can be considered either common or occasional visitors, and in the right weather, with a little luck, may be viewed along the route. 

These range in size from the small harbour porpoise to the planet’s second largest animal, the glorious giant fin whale. The eight species most likely to be encountered are the harbour porpoise, common dolphin, bottlenose dolphin, Risso’s dolphin, killer whale, minke whale, humpback whale and fin whale. 

Dolphins tail breaching the water

Many wildlife enthusiasts are particularly interested in sightings of the large whales, namely the fin and humpback whales, and while these can be seen from June onwards along the Kerry and Cork coastline, the trends suggest that they are more common off County Kerry between July and September and off West Cork between October and December.

Wild Atlantic Way waters are also among the best in the world for sightings of the planet’s second largest fish, the plankton feeding basking shark, which arrives in late spring, but can be seen throughout the summer in settled weather. 

Take a Tour

There are a number of great viewing points along the Wild Atlantic Way which potentially offer some of the best land-based whale and dolphin watching in the northeast Atlantic. For those of you who want to feel the fresh Atlantic spray on your face and perhaps get closer to whales and dolphins, then you should consider one of the whale and dolphin watching boat trips offered along the route: 

- Dolphin Discovery, based in Kilrush County Clare. Sails daily from April to October.
- Dolphinwatch, the dolphin encounter rate with Dolphinwatch is one of the best in the world. Tour season runs April to October.

- Blasket Islands Eco Marine Tours, based in Ventry on the Dingle Peninsula. Daily tours from April - October.

- Dingle Dolphin Boat Tours, you're almost guaranteed to see Ireland’s most famous dolphin, Fungie. Tours operate all year round.

- Whale Watch West Cork, based in Baltimore in West Cork. Tours operate all year round.

- Cork Whale Watch Ireland’s longest established whale watch operator based in Union Hall, County Cork. Tours operate all year round.

Dolphin coming out of the water

Top Whale & Dolphin Watching Spots

The following 38 sites are not exhaustive, as whales and dolphins can, and do, occur in any coastal area. But these locations do have a proven track record of superb sightings:

1. County Donegal

Malin HeadFanad HeadBloody Foreland, Dawros Head, Malin More Head, Sliabh Liag, St. John’s Point.

2. County Sligo

Mullaghmore HeadAughris Head.

3. County Mayo

Kilcummin Head, Downpatrick Head,  Erris HeadAnnagh Head, Achill Island, Old Head/Clew Bay.

4. County Galway

Killary Harbour, Aran Island Ferry.

5. County Clare

Black Head, Hag's Head, Kilkee cliffs, Loop Head, Shannon Estuary.

6. County Kerry

Ballybunion Cliffs, Kerry Head, Brandon Point, Slea Head Peninsula, Blasket IslandsBray Head/Valentia Island, Skellig Island.

7. County Cork

Dursey Island, Sheep’s Head, Mizen Head, Cape Clear Island (Gleann Loop), Baltimore Beacon, Toe Head, Galley Head, Seven Heads, Old Head of Kinsale.

Whales breaching water

Discover what other fascinating marine life lies under those Atlantic waves here or see just what adventures await on one of these captivating islands. Dive in!