You’ll find answers to many of the questions people ask us regularly in the FAQ section below — just click on the question you’re interested in to reveal the answer you’re looking for — or use the handy FAQ search facility below. If you can’t find the answer you’re looking for then by all means contact us for more information.
Top Whale Watching Questions (11)
Common dolphins, as the name suggest, are West Cork’s most frequently observed cetacean. We see them on most trips during the summer, autumn and winter. They often join the Holly Jo to bow-ride, offering spectacular views of their acrobatic behaviour. We sometimes encounter large groups of common dolphins with mothers and their calves in their midst.
The shy harbour porpoise , Ireland’s smallest whale, is commonly seen on our trips in West Cork, but sightings require very calm sea conditions.
Bottlenose dolphins are occasional visitors to West Cork, and we do encounter small groups every year. We also occasionally see Risso’s dolphins from the Holly Jo. Our largest member of the dolphin family, the killer whale (Orca) is now only rarely seen in West Cork waters.
In recent years both minke and humpback whales have started arriving in West Cork’s in-shore waters from early April, with humpback numbers peaking in May/June. The planet’s 2nd biggest animal the mighty fin whale usually arrives in summer with a late season peak between September and November.
Atlantic grey seals and common seals are resident on and around many of the striking uninhabited islands and a close encounter with these charismatic marine mammals is always an enjoyable aspect of every trip out with Cork Whale Watch.
West Cork waters are also home to a wide range of both oceanic and coastal sea birds. Gannets, kittiwakes, various shearwater species, storm petrels, razorbills, puffins, guillemots and much more can be seen from the deck of the Holly Jo. Huge clouds of seabirds often congregate around feeding whales and dolphins. Watching a lunge-feeding fin whale engulfed in a cloud of diving gannets and wheeling kittiwakes is simply breathtaking.
Colin Barnes will help you identify species, and share his extensive knowledge on the seabird ecology of the region.
During the late spring and early summer basking sharks are annual visitors to the West Cork coast, and we sometimes see the rare leatherback turtle, sunfish, blue sharks and various jelly fish, including the increasingly common Portuguese Man O’ War from the decks of the Holly Jo.
Yes, Cork Whale Watch is delighted to accept group bookings for larger parties of 6 or more up to a maximum of 12 people. For larger groups we generally require further notice to facilitate numbers and prompt updates if your circumstances change. Please see our Group Bookings page for more details. Our charter rate in 2020 for a whale watch trip of minimum 4 hours duration, which can include bird watching, fishing and landscapes is €550.
We ask larger groups of 6 or more people to pay a booking deposit of €150 via pay pal. Please note that you do not need to have a Paypal account to use this facility, as you are using our Paypal account. The balance due can simply be paid on the day by cash after the trip. Of course, if in the event that the trip doesn’t proceed due to weather, or if you give us sufficient notice of a minimum of 48 hours, we will give you an immediate and full refund.
The advantage of using Paypal is that it is safe, immediate and our refunding you is a simple click of a refund button. You paying us a deposit shows a commitment on your part to this booking and eliminates the possibility where groups make a booking while considering other options. The fact that a group has paid a deposit means they are very unlikely not to show up on the day, which happens more often than we’d like when groups don’t pay a deposit.
If you pay a deposit and don’t show up for your trip, then this gives us the option to withhold part or all of your deposit, so we are at least compensated in part for any loss of earnings, as a deposit means we have not taken other bookings for the slot you’ve requested.
To secure your booking by paying is a booking deposit please follow these steps:
- Go to our website www.corkwhalewatch.com
- Click on Schedule & booking link on top of home page
- Click the Group Bookings link
- Scroll down to bottom of page, select AMOUNT 3 €150 and click Pay now
Due to the unpredictable nature of weather in the southwest of Ireland and the possibility of cancellations etc, we ask that you pay Colin directly at the end of your trip using cash or any major credit card.
Our rates are as follows:
- Adults €60 per person
- Children under 18 years: €45
- 3rd level student €50 (with valid student card
We ask all groups of 6 or more people to pay a booking deposit of €150 via pay pal. Please note that you do not need to have a Paypal account to use this facility. All you need is a credit card. The balance due can simply be paid on the day by cash or card at the end of your trip. In the event that the trip doesn’t proceed due to weather, we will, of course, give you a full and immediate refund.
The advantage of using Paypal is that it is safe, and our refunding you is a simple click of a “refund button”. You’re paying us a booking deposit shows a commitment on your part to this booking. The fact that a group has paid a deposit means they are very unlikely not to show up on the day, which happens more often than we’d like when groups don’t pay a deposit.
To secure your booking by paying is a booking deposit please follow these steps:
- Go to our website www.corkwhalewatch.com
- Hover over the Schedule & booking link in the main menu
- Click on the Group Bookings menu item
- Scroll down and click the Pay Now button to pay your €150 deposit
As with any wildlife watching venture, whales and dolphins can be unpredictable. We don’t offer any gimmicks such as money back guarantees, in the rare event of our having no sightings. That said, Colin’s unrivalled experience significantly increases your chance of encountering a range of cetacean species on your trip, which typically produce whale and/or dolphin sightings on about >98% of our trips (see breakdown below). Grey seals are seen on every trip on the inshore islands, as well as an array of seabirds and fantastic coastal scenery, so there is always something wonderful and new to see. Colin often produces fishing rods if things are quiet and give clients an opportunity to catch their own supper.
2019 Species and sightings summary, based on a sample of 145 trips
- Cetacean sightings on 99% of trips of at least one species (98.5% in 2018)
- Dolphins were recorded on 95.1% of trips (95.3% in 2018), almost all were common dolphins.
- Whales (at least 1 species) were recorded on 83.4% of trips in 2019 (91% in 2018)
- Large whales (fin and/or humpbacks) were seen on 49.6% of trips during 2019, compared with 50.7% in 2018, with breakdown: fin whale 31.7%, humpback whale on 25.5%
- Minke whales were recorded on 71.7% of our trips during 2019 (84% in 2018)
- >1 whale species were recorded on 40% of trips during 2019 (49.2% in 2018)
- The following 8 cetacean species were recorded in 2019:
harbour porpoise Phocoena phocoena, short-beaked common dolphin Delphinus delphis, Risso’s dolphin Grampus griseus, bottlenose dolphin Tursiops truncatus, minke whale Balaenoptera acutorostrata, humpback whale Megaptera novaeanlgliae, fin whale Balaenoptera physalus & killer whale Orcinus orca.
In summary, wildlife watching is a bit of a lottery, and whale watching is no different. The biggest influence on what you’ll see on any trip is the weather on the day, and how keen an observer you are. Yes, you also play a part in our trip sightings! So based on our experience, we’d say with confidence that a fine weather day during low season, will produce better sightings than a poor weather day in high season. But rest assured, if there are whales around, there is no whale watch skipper in Ireland with the experience and reputation that Colin Barnes has for finding them.
We generally have a very good idea of weather conditions 48 hours prior to your trip and so last minute cancellations are rare. So it is imperative that you re-confirm your booking with us 2 days before your trip, to confirm weather suitability and that you still want to join us. You can follow the daily trip updates on our Facebook page or keep an eye on our website “Availability Calendar” which is updated daily and will give you an idea of the prospects in the coming days. However, if Colin considers the weather and sea conditions unsuitable or unsafe for a Whale Watch, we reserve the right to cancel a trip at any time. It is therefore essential that the contact details you give with your booking are correct at the time of sailing so that we can forewarn you of any last minute changes.
Sometimes, passengers may have to cancel their trip. Please ensure that you contact us at the earliest possible moment, if you find you cannot keep your booking in compliance with our 24 Hr cancellation policy. During the summer months, we’ll have others waiting on a standby list who could use your places. But the more notice you give us, the better able we’ll be to fill your places.
Any booking deposits will be refunded if a cancellation is received forty eight hours before scheduled trip time and if we have to cancel a trip to poor weather.
Even on the finest day, as the ‘Holly Jo’ picks up speed, the breeze can be surprisingly chilling. Please ensure you bring a windproof/waterproof jacket for protection and sensible outdoor footwear. During warm weather we suggest people apply sun block before heading out and bring a broad hat with a generous rim, as the sun and wind can take a toll on pale Celtic skin!
Although there is a kettle in the wheelhouse, brewing tea and coffee is a low priority for us when searching for whales. So we suggest you bring along a hot flask of your favourite brew and any snacks or a picnic as fresh sea air can make you very peckish. More importantly being on the water for 4 hrs or longer can leave you quite dehydrated, so we suggest you bring fluids or a flask of tea/soup etc.!
Don’t forget to bring your camera, spare batteries and a zoom lens and if you are a voucher holder, you will need to present your voucher on the day.
We do not take dogs/pets on board (unless they are trained assistance dogs)
All our whale watching trips depart from Reen Pier which is 4 Kilometres outside of Union Hall village, West Cork. From Clonakilty, Leap or Glandore direction, go into Union Hall village and drive through the main street until you reach a large church, (St. Bridgets) on your left as you head away from village. Take a left turn at church; Reen Pier is signed at this point. Take 1st right after 300 metres (again signed for Reen Pier) and stay on this road, keeping the lake on your left, and you can’t miss Reen Pier. It’s a 4-5 minute drive from Union Hall to our car parking area. With beautiful Castlehaven Bay on your right hand side, the car parking area is marked by a “Cork Whale Watch” sign, and is about 200 mts before the pier itself; here you will find plenty of free car parking. We’d ask that you do not park on the actual pier, as it may obstruct commercial vehicles and your vehicle may have to be towed away.
If you are travelling from the Skibbereen or Castletownshend direction, the church is on your right side, before you get into the main village, and take a right at the church, and follow the signs as above.
Our GPS location is N 51.5318 W -09.16529 or N 51 31.910 W -09 09.918
Our Whale watching trips are a minimum of four hours duration, often longer, and typically follow the schedule outlined below. But of greater importance is the fact that we spend every minute of our time on the water searching for wildlife, which means no drop offs on nearby islands for tea and cake. When you are sitting in a cafe on Cape Clear, we are not searching for whales, and you are not seeing them!
|2020 Summer & Autumn Timetable (April- Oct.)|
|10.30am to 2.30 pm|
|2020 Winter & Spring Timetable (Nov.-March)|
|11.00am to 3.00 pm (flexible)|
|Bookings can be made by telephoning:|
+353 (0)86 3273226 or visit the Schedule and Booking page
While in general we’d have to say yes, our trips are suitable for families with young children, and we try to encourage young families by offering a €10 discount for all children and students. However, we’d add this proviso. Our trips are a minimum of 4 hours duration and some children get easily bored, so you are the best judge as to whether your child is suitable for such an adventurous trip in the North Atlantic searching for whales.
Please note if your child gets sea-sick, bored, wet and/or grumpy, it is up to you to entertain them for the remainder of the trip, as turning back to port is not an option. There are no nappy changing facilities on board and the toilet will not be suitable for such a “precision exercise”. Our overall advise is that our trips may not be suitable for children under 5 years of age, especially outside of spring/summer months. Some common sense needs to be applied here.
Reen Pier is not really suitable for wheelchair access to the ‘Holly Jo’, where access to the boat is via a ladder, and at low tide this can be a few metres drop. However, in the past we have been able to lift down wheel chair users. Castletownshend slip (on the west side of the harbour) offers suitable access at certain tide times. Colin will be able to advise on the possibility of wheelchair access depending on the tide (low or high) at the time of your trip.
Any arrangements for wheelchair access will need to be made in advance when you make your booking, so please give us as much notice as possible.
Travel times in remote areas like West Cork are almost always longer than Google Maps or Sat. Nav indicate. So if you are traveling from anywhere outside of County Cork, we’d strongly suggest that you consider staying the evening before in the West Cork area. This will remove the stress, and ensure you get to us at Reen pier in good time for your trip. It is almost always those who take on too long a drive on the day, who get lost, or are late and miss the boat. Make life easy and consider one of the following options:
Local Hotel Accommodation
1. Celtic Ross Hotel, Rosscarbery, (Cork Whale Watch partner, includes a pack lunch). 15 minute drive to Reen Pier visit website – Tel: Lo-Call: 1850 272 737 or T: +353 23 8848722
2. West Cork Hotel, Skibbereen (CWW partner on whale watch breaks), 25-30 minute drive to Reen Pier. Website: www.westcorkhotel.com/whale-watching-west-cork/ – Tel: +353 28 21277, e: [email protected]
3. Inchydoney Lodge & Spa Hotel, near Clonakilty. 45 minute drive to Reen pier-Tel: +353 23 88 21104 www.inchydoneyisland.com
Local Bed & Breakfast (B&B) Accommodation
5. Seascapes B&B, Union Hall (5 Minutes drive)- Tel: 353 (0)28 33920, contact: Julie, www.seascape.ie
6. Lis-Ardagh Lodge B&B, Union Hall (5 Minutes drive), Tel: 353 (0)28 34951, contact: Carol & Jim Kearney
7. Atlantic House B&B, Castletownshend (15 Minutes drive) – Tel: 028 36440, contact: Kathleen
8. Casey’s Bar & restaurant, Union Hall (5 Minutes drive) – Tel: 353 (0)28 33590, contact: Paul, e: [email protected]
9. The Leap Inn, Leap, (12 Minutes drive)-Tel: 353 (0)28 33668, Contact: Brian & Anne Sheehan
10. Bay View House B&B, Glandore (10 Minutes drive) , Tel: 353 (0)28 33115 e: [email protected]
11. The Castle B&B, Castletownshend (20 Minutes drive) , Tel: 353 (0)28 36100, Contact: Ann
Local Camping & Hostel options
12. Russagh Mill Hostel, Near Skibbereen (20 Minutes drive), Contact: Chris , Tel: 353 (0)28 22451 e: [email protected]
13. The Meadow camp site, Glandore (15 Minutes drive), Tel: 353 (0)28 33280, E: [email protected]
14. The Meadow camp site, Skibbereen, on Castletownshend road (20 Minutes drive) Tel: 353 (0)28 22254