Belfast Telegraph

Dolphins follow in wake of Rathlin whale

By Linda Stewart

First, an endangered humpback whale, and now a rare sighting of a school of Atlantic white-sided dolphins — it looks like Rathlin Island is becoming the place to go for whale-watchers.

These unusual dolphins have occasionally washed up on Northern Ireland’s shores as live or dead strandings but this is the first validated sighting of a group of them in our waters.

Until now there have only been six records of Atlantic white-sided dolphin in Northern Ireland — all of them stranded and most on the north coast.

But last week a crew member on the Rathlin Express Ferry spotted no less than 15 dolphins knifing through the water a mile north of Ballycastle Harbour and suspected they were Atlantic white-sided dolphins. Michael Cecil watched the dolphins moving close to the boat for 10 minutes and managed to get a photo with his mobile phone.

And his hunch proved to be correct, according to Ian Enlander, sightings co-ordinator with the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group.

“This species is abundant offshore but is usually only seen inshore when an animal is sick or already stranded — this sighting, involving some 15 individuals, is exceptional,” he said.

“This is certainly the first validated report of a group of this species in Northern Ireland and certainly the first authenticated by photograph.”

For most of us, a sighting of an Atlantic white-sided dolphin would be a major tick — but Ian has seen many of them further out to sea.

“It’s a deep water oceanic species and when we’re doing offshore surveys we would expect to see them. Many tens of individuals is not an unusual sight and it would usually be off the continental shelf,” he said.

If you want to find out more about Ireland's whales and dolphins, look out for local events as part of Irish Whale Watch Day on August 22 - full details on

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