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‘We Have No Whales to Watch’ Says West Cork Business as It Ends Season Early — And Blames Overfishing of Sprat

28th November 2023
This whale tale sighting was no fluke for the RTÉ Nationwide team that went to sea with Cork Whale Watch in May 2018
This whale tail sighting was no fluke for the RTÉ Nationwide team that went to sea with Cork Whale Watch in May 2018 Credit: IWDG

A West Cork-based whale-watching tour business has ended its 2023 season early, blaming overfishing of sprat for the absence of the usual whale visitors to the South Coast.

In a social media post on Monday (27 November), Cork Whale Watch said: “Over the past week we carried out long searches of all the favoured areas, in idyllic spotting conditions and found the sea to be absolutely barren of any life at all, not even bird life. Nothing at all remaining in our patch of the Atlantic.

“There is a simple reason for this situation, there are no sprat shoals anywhere for whales to feed on in West Cork waters as there always was.”

The company claims that sprat “have been overfished to the point of extinction by the large Irish pelagic trawlers that target the shoals as they assemble to spawn”.

Describing the situation as “ill advised, unsustainable and destructive” and comparing it to the decimation of West Cork’s herring stocks in the 1990s, Cork Whale Watch says that overfishing of sprat “has gone on for decades now, unregulated, no quota system, no conservation measures of any kind, to the inevitable conclusion of where we are now, they are gone, not a shoal anywhere”.

Sprat is a highly lucrative fishery worth more than €3 million annually to the Irish fishing fleet. Most is sold as fishmeal to the aquaculture industry, as previously reported on

But it is also a key food source for “almost every species of fish in the north east Atlantic”, as Cork Whale Watch argues, “as well as all seabirds, whales and dolphins”.

It adds: “In this way [sprat] are the very life blood of a healthy oceanic food chain. Fishing them to extinction is all part of the dreadful abuse of the ocean carried out by human greed, and pathetic fishery management.”

MacDara Conroy

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MacDara Conroy

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MacDara Conroy is a contributor covering all things on the water, from boating and wildlife to science and business

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Marine Wildlife Around Ireland One of the greatest memories of any day spent boating around the Irish coast is an encounter with marine wildlife.  It's a thrill for young and old to witness seabirds, seals, dolphins and whales right there in their own habitat. As boaters fortunate enough to have experienced it will testify even spotting a distant dorsal fin can be the highlight of any day afloat.  Was that a porpoise? Was it a whale? No matter how brief the glimpse it's a privilege to share the seas with Irish marine wildlife.

Thanks to the location of our beautiful little island, perched in the North Atlantic Ocean there appears to be no shortage of marine life to observe.

From whales to dolphins, seals, sharks and other ocean animals this page documents the most interesting accounts of marine wildlife around our shores. We're keen to receive your observations, your photos, links and youtube clips.

Boaters have a unique perspective and all those who go afloat, from inshore kayaking to offshore yacht racing that what they encounter can be of real value to specialist organisations such as the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group (IWDG) who compile a list of sightings and strandings. The IWDG knowledge base has increased over the past 21 years thanks in part at least to the observations of sailors, anglers, kayakers and boaters.

Thanks to the IWDG work we now know we share the seas with dozens of species who also call Ireland home. Here's the current list: Atlantic white-sided dolphin, beluga whale, blue whale, bottlenose dolphin, common dolphin, Cuvier's beaked whale, false killer whale, fin whale, Gervais' beaked whale, harbour porpoise, humpback whale, killer whale, minke whale, northern bottlenose whale, northern right whale, pilot whale, pygmy sperm whale, Risso's dolphin, sei whale, Sowerby's beaked whale, sperm whale, striped dolphin, True's beaked whale and white-beaked dolphin.

But as impressive as the species list is the IWDG believe there are still gaps in our knowledge. Next time you are out on the ocean waves keep a sharp look out!