Colin Barnes, the owner of Cork Whale Watch, has immersed himself in the marine wildlife of the West Cork coast for more than 45 years. Here he explains a bit about his background, and an enduring passion for marine wildlife that led him to set up as the first whale watching operator in West Cork.
Unrivalled local whale watching experience
I began fishing in UK waters in 1967 and continued until 1972, when I moved to Ireland. I have spent the last 45 years on the seas off West Cork, both making my living and continuing a lifetime’s study of the area’s marine environment. For most of these years, I was engaged in commercial fishing, with intervals of angling charters, diving trips, scientific and topographical surveys, and more recently, eco-tourism, whale watching trips and marine wildlife tours.
I have kept records of all activities: fish stocks, weather, plankton levels, sea temperatures and more from 1973 to the present day. Using sonics and electronic navigation, I have explored, fished and mapped 2,500 square miles of the sea bed off the West Cork coast. All of my fishing activity used selective, passive gear, i.e. pots, gillnet and longlines, aimed at selected species, with no bycatch or discards, waste or damage to the sea bed.
Whale and dolphin watching, cetacean research, television and radio
In the year 2001, I gave up commercial fishing to move into eco-tourism, with whale watching off West Cork as my main activity. Today (2017) some sixteen years, on I have extensive records of year-round whale, dolphin and porpoise activity, which provide compelling evidence of how important West Cork is to cetaceans.
Since 2000 I have worked very closely with the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group (IWDG), contributing records to their sightings database and providing a platform for cetacean surveys and research and collaborating on Irish-based events. I worked with the IWDG to develop recommendations for responsible Whale Watching and Marine Eco-Tourism, and I am co-author of the recently published ‘Photo-Identification of Fin and Humpback Whales off the South Coast of Ireland’.
Irish Whales and Dolphins on Radio and Television
Over the last 15 years I have collaborated on numerous wildlife programmes with independent production companies and national broadcast organisations like RTÉ and the BBC. Programme credits include ‘Wild Trials’ with Ray D’Arcy and Mike Brown, Tony Whelan’s ‘In Search of the Irish Humpback’, Tom McSweeney’s maritime news reports, Colin Stafford-Johnson’s ‘Living the Wildlife’ and most recently the BBC’s iconic Springwatch, Autumnwatch and Winterwatch franchise working with wildlife presenter Iolo Williams and cameraman Gordon Buchanan.
World class whale watching, right here in West Cork
Year after year, my passengers, many of whom have travelled the world to observe whale, are astonished by the quantity and diversity of whales and dolphins which we encounter from as early as March through to February. International whale watch specialists have declared the cetacean activity in the coastal waters of West Cork to be of global importance.