Last night word I got word to say that there was a dead whale somewhere along the cliffs by Ballymacaw cove just west of Dunmore East in Co. Waterford. The Irish Whale & Dolphin Group(IWDG) asked me to go and have a look to see if I could get some more information than they already had. I got up at first light and was on the road by dawn. The morning was clear and Venus was fading up into a sky that was suddenly filled with swallows, fluttering and chattering as I got into the car.
Ballymacaw is only 6 or 7 miles from Tramore and I didn’t meet any traffic along the way. I drove down the little road to the slip. The cove is a deep inlet with a tiny beach and slipway. The last time I was here was at a party about 20 years ago. A huge crowd turned up, there was even a burger van parked on the slip but the rain came thundering down adding to a high tide and the stage that had been built under the red cliffs was flooded. All I remember of the night is eating a burger in the back of a friend’s car as the rain lashed against the windows.
The water was quiet this morning, deep green in the shadow of the low cliffs and I could see no sign of a whale. I spied a narrow path through the gorse to the east of the cove and walked up it and along the cliff to a bridge down to a stone pontoon. I walked on, crossing a field, climbing over a fence and down onto some rocks that slanted toward the sea. Walking past a deep crack in the shore I glimpsed the striated white blubber and smelled it at the same time. I had found my whale.
The body was about 25 foot long but its head was missing and the skin had been rubbed off as it washed up and down the narrow crevice in the rocks. I have not had enough experience to identify an animal in this condition but it was more than likely a Minke whale.The smell was over-powering and I couldn’t help but remember that smells are particulate and that I was breathing in rotting whale. Nice.
I took some photos and a video. As the tide receded the body looked like it was going to get stuck in the rocks and I climbed down to see if I should make an attempt to get a skin sample. I realised this was silly partly because most of its skin was gone but mostly because there would no-one to save me if I slipped and upended myself into the rotting carcass to suffocate horribly.
I walked back across the rocks that were crisscrossed with cracks and the dribbles of a small stream. Nearer the cove the rocks looked manmade, a black porridge of stones cemented together by god knows what and splattered with ochre lichen. Here and there some sea pinks shivered in the cracks. It was cold in a north-west breeze but the sun was warming up the day. I scanned the sea with my binoculars for a while to see if there were any live sea animals. There were plenty of birds and some trawlers heading west out of Dunmore but no dolphins. No whales.
The black claws of rock were ripping the green sea, fraying its edges white and gulls hovered, landed and took off again over the line of the outgoing tide. The fields above the cove that were bobbled with bales of hay were glowing in the morning sun as I walked back to the slip.
The road wound me past the little church at Corbally and the erstwhile Murphys pub at the junction at Clohernagh and along behind the Backstrand. A man in an SUV coming towards me yawned widely. From a distance the ugly blocky housing estates of Tramore looked almost cute, like monopoly houses bright in the light with the cobalt blue bay spread at their feet. The church, white on the hill, pinned the Comeraghs onto the background.
When I got to Tramore I stopped off at T-Bay Surf Centre on the beach and got a toastie and a tea from Ann and while I ate, Grace showed me a gull she had rescued a few days ago. It was a young black-headed gull, its wing broken. When she found it, it had been too weak to even peck her but now it tottered around the deck in the sun. The bay was turquoise and the low waves curled in the light offshore wind. It was going to be a beautiful day.