Exif_JPEG_PICTURETwo days ago I received an email from the strandings officer for the Irish Whale & Dolphin Group(IWDG) asking me to check out a rumour that there was a Killer Whale beached at Saleens in Tramore Bay. I duly did so expecting to find a Harbour Porpoise or a Dolphin. To my amazement there was in fact a freshly dead female Killer Whale prone on the slimy green stones of the estuary.


Killer whales are not as uncommon around Ireland as people might imagine. Occasionally when bodyboarding I have succumbed to dramatic visions of being the sea lion in a remake of that David Attenborough clip, the one where the Killer Whale practically walks up the beach to enmaw (is that a word?) its terrified prey.


Still its pretty exciting these know these animals are out there. For the most part they travel in pods and are seen annually to the south-west and west of Ireland and on up to Scotland. On occasion they venture close to shore. In 2001 three Orcas made their way up Cork harbour over a period of three weeks. As one of these whales eventually died and considering their social nature their trip could be seen as a sort of funeral cortège. A poignant thought in the case of our Orca here in Tramore, a lone female with no evidence of a pod in the vicinity. Maybe I am over identifying…Exif_JPEG_PICTURE


This particular Orca (which has since been removed) was five metres (16ft) long which could have indicated that she was young except for the fact her teeth were completely worn down. As was pointed out to me by Mark Hosford this may be due to suction feeding on fish.


There are different groupings of Killer whales. Residents, Transients and Offshore as well as Types A to D with diet and behaviour varying from group to group. As with many marine animals research is ongoing. Brian Whiteside Whitty told me there is a species of Killer Whale in the North Atlantic, Type B~which is smaller than Type A~which only grows to 7 metres(20ft)or so which could explain the size of our whale. Also female Killers are smaller than males anyway. We will have to wait until we hear more from the post mortem.


Our Killer Whale has provoked a huge response. On the face of it this should be a good thing. More interest should mean more donations to the IWDG which means more research, more knowledge of our world. As a nation in a deep recession looking for new paths to tread our wildlife and our environment could offer a way for us to create jobs, a future for us all so even the more hard-headed of us should be taking note.


But to my mind there’s a fair amount of reaction that is either over-emotional, callous or obstructive and sometimes all these things at once. Apart from identifying myself with a Killer Whale and imagining myself expiring alone in an estuary I am fairly pragmatic when it comes to dead animals. Most of the ones I have seen have died of natural causes* and so I am often taken aback by flowery reactions to strandings. From the rows of weeping emoticons online to someone wailing ‘poor thing!’ as I count teeth in a rotting head I am often left lost for words. (One of the few reactions that made any sense to me came from a tiny Asian lady who approached me as I cut into a decomposing Porpoise to ask me if I caught it myself and if it was for sale.)


*There has been a spike in strandings in the west recently which may involve human interference but that’s for another post.


 Two years ago an unfortunate and starving Sperm Whale beached itself on the Cunnigar Spit, in Dungarvan, Co. Waterford, to die. It took it over a day to expire and in that interim the hordes descended on it making its last hours a misery. Some people even carved their names into its skin. I like to think the animal was dead at that point. It’s jaw bone was sawn off by souvenir hunters. Many people like to think that ‘yobs’, hooded youths with spinning eyes, people who are not ‘us’, perpetrate such things but I have my doubts.


The IWDG and the National Parks and Wildlife Service(NPWS) did their best~I believe a ranger stayed with the distressed animal through its last night~but the people who could be volunteering for them were too intent on behaving badly towards a living creature. One man nearly drowned his children trying to get to the whale on a rising tide because he wasn’t going let his kids ‘miss this chance’. Exif_JPEG_PICTUREAside from distressing a living creature and affecting post mortem results this weird behaviour is a depressing signifier of how disconnected people can be. Even dead bodies speak of their environment, of the history not only of their own mortal arc but of the evolution of all of us so when I arrived on Friday to find a grown man standing on top of the Killer Whale and when I heard later of children kicking it, it jarred. By the end of Saturday the body was covered in foot prints, traffic was making access difficult and the Council had called the Gardai on the freezing, starving IWDG volunteers who were trying to protect the body for post mortem. Happily it was all sorted in the end.

Maybe it is natural human curiosity about the nature of death which provokes this behaviour but my own curiosity has evolved differently. In the last couple of years I joined the strandings scheme of the IWDG. As a volunteer I get to see so much without the attendant circus of the uninvolved and learn so much more than if I was a spectator. I am not missing any chances.


Sometimes the weather is atrocious, it might be getting dark, the tide rising, the body  inaccessible and then, after all, there’s only a smelly pile of goo and bones. Sometimes I wonder what the hell I am doing. But each trip is a stitch in the fabric of a larger understanding of my world, each body that has slid in exhaustion, or fear or surrender onto our shore is a tracing of the vulnerability of the life that animates us all, vulnerable yet somehow immensely powerful in that vulnerability.


As a volunteer, and a volunteer who does not do even a fraction of what some do, I look at the sea now and know  it is not empty, the world is not empty, everywhere there is life and its patterns and clues and traces. And I know that life ends. And never ends.


So when the next you see a body on the shoreline, if you imagine you care at all, don’t just weep, or feel pity, or post an emoticon also know you are involved whether you like it or not and think about spending some time. Volunteer. Report strandings and sightings. Consider if it is really necessary to visit the next big stranding and if maybe it would be better to make the effort to see the animals alive rather than dead. And if you don’t have any time then send money.



In Ireland you can join the IWDG from as little as €20 annually. It is €40 for a family. Go to or email Deirdre Slevin at

I am quite sure you are free to send money too.
You can volunteer to for Effort watches 100 minutes per month. Its a good way to learn what to look for. You can volunteer for the strandings project too. None of this takes up much time.
Everyone is also free to report sightings and strandings directly onto the website. Its very straight forward.

There are other organisations too.. 
Mammals in a Sustainable Environment (MISE) is Waterford based and runs great free workshops.
The National Parks & Wildlife Service(NPWS)
Birdwatch Ireland
The Irish Wildlife Trust

And many more.
You will find local branches of the Wildlife Trust and Irelands Wildlife as well all of the above organisations on Facebook and Twitter which is a good way to keep up with events.

All opinions are my own and I do not speak for any organisation nor am I an expert of any kind. Except maybe in eating cake.


10 responses to “KILLER WHALE

  1. It is poignant to think of a goddess of the ocean reduced to a tasteless spectacle for Sunday entertainment. Mind you, I do feel one child I overheard did get to the heart of it. ‘What did you think of the killer whale,’ her father asked her. ‘It was dead,’ she said. ‘What did it smell like?’ ‘Mackerel.’


    • She as bang on alright!I do sort of sympathise with peoples desire to get close to these creatures however since Ive been watching live whales and know how little effort is needed to do it I do think people, despite what they say, like to see them dead ie unmoving and in one place. Always amazed at nature lovers who ask how to see whales will not follow my advice-check the sightings, sit and watch for a while-instead they want texts from me telling them exactly when and where the whales are. Maybe its a modern malady, mass attention disorder…MAD!Thanks for calling by Derbhile…must check into your writing group soon.


    • I like that that rhymed…and please do send me one 🙂 Thanks TooTunes…I seem to be too busy to get around to cartoons and comments these days and its nice that you still come and say hello and reminds me to get my act together 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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