Sharks and Basking Sharks
In recent years Inishowen has become synominous with sharks of all shapes and tooth size, so much so that many fishermen and boaters have nick named the dramatic stretch of coastline ‘shark country’. However of the entire shark family found on the North Donegal coast the Basking shark is the most iconic for the local coastal communities. Growing up to 10m in length and heavier than an African elephant its difficult to miss the basking shark when out on the water or even strolling along one of the many rugged cliffs tops or pure sandy bays that Inishowen offers to the visitor.
Whale and dolphin watching is a relatively new development on the coastline of Inishowen. Things have changed in recent years throughout these coastal waters, with a rapid decline in fishing activity and a significant rise in leisure boating, reports of cetacean activity have increased dramatically. This surge of interest has been harnessed and led by locally based marine biologists and researchers who have developed and delivered new monitoring and educational programmes in the locality. Porpoise, Bottlenose Dolphin, Minke whale and Risso’s Dolphin are the usual suspects with regular confirmed sightings of Common dolphin and Killer whales (orca’s). Inishowen’s dramatic cliffs and wild coastline juts out into the Atlantic to offer the prospective land based whale watcher an island like experience with the added luxury of driving to your headland destination. Boat based watching is operated on demand out of Greencastle. With good sea conditions this coastline can offer some of the most natural whale and dolphin experiences on the western seaboard of Europe. Locally based environmentalists conduct regular land based watches and vessel-based surveys, which feed into the Irish Whale and Dolphin Groups online database.
The best months to watch are May and June with July – October offering good viewing in calm weather conditions. Winter watching offers a larger variety of species with Risso’s a very common sight but weather conditions can be challenging on this rugged and exposed coastline. Recommended location is Inishowen Head.
Moville and surrounding area have numerous different breeds of bird. Starting with the magnificent Swan to the tiniest Coal Tit.
Heron can be seen walking along the shoreline of Moville, along with other common seashore birds such as the Guillemot, the puffin, the great black backed Gull, (numerous Gulls). Birds of the ocean habitually spend more time on the wing than land birds.
Gannets are plentiful on the northern coast. This large white bird, with its black-tipped wings, buff coloured head and neck, clear blue eyes, and a wing spread of six feet, is most interesting to watch as it soars gracefully over the sea. The gannet is the largest of all Irish sea birds, and is easily first in the strength of its flight. It has an airspeed of forty-five miles an hour or thereabouts.
Birds of Prey are principally represented by the Sparrow-hawk and kestrel. Peregrine falcons are seen occasionally and the downward swoop of this bird is a sight not to be forgotten.
The Cormorant, which is a fish eater, and the most greedy feeder of all, is exceedingly numerous. A cormorant on every day of its life can eat as much fish as three times its own weight of five or six pounds. The Shag or green cormorant, with its recurved crest, is also very common round our coast.
Geese, wildfowl and wild ducks include the red-brested merganser, sheduck, mallard, scoter and eider-duck find their way to Inishowen.
About one-third of our birds are migratory and the remainder native. Some of the migratory birds can travel at a marvelous speed, reaching at times over a hundred miles an hour. The swallow could fly from North Africa to Inishowen in twelve hours.
There are plenty of other creatures of interest on the coast in addition to birds. The twice daily withdrawal of the sea reveals a large community of animals, especially on rocky coasts, that live in their particular niche. The most apparent at low tide covering nearly every rock surface are Barnacles. These crustaceans related to shrimps and crabs. If you look closely at the top of the shell is a “trapdoor” which opens when the tide comes in and it’s feathery legs extend out to trap drifting plankton. The large conical shaped shellfish among the barnacle are limpets which move around grazing minute plant life from the rocks but always return to the same spot when the tide returns. The snail-like shellfish common the rocky beaches are Winkles of which there are various species at different zones of the beach. Whelks are similar to winkles but with a more pointed shell. These shellfish are carnivores. Among the shells washed up on the beach you will find many with a small neat hole that has been drilled by a whelk.
A short time spent looking in a rock pool will reveal a wealth of different creatures. The Hermit crab does not have the hard body shell of other crabs and has to inhabit an empty whelk shell. As it grows larger it has to move house and find a bigger shell each time. Sea Anemones are like bright red plants attached to rocks but are actually animals related to jellyfish and capture small creatures with their stinging tentacles.
Many of the shells found on the beach such as Razor Shell, Cockle, Tellins and Sand Gaspers spend there lives submerged in the sand with only their siphons protruding above to extract food particles from the water.