A Guide To Whale Watching In Cork (Best Time To Try It + Tours)

whale watching in cork
Photo left: Andrea Izzotti. Photo right: slowmotiongli (Shutterstock)

One of the most unique things to do in Ireland is to spend a day whale watching in Cork.

One of the many reasons to travel is to witness nature at its most powerful, something that’s hard to do from the comfort of your own sofa!

When it comes to whale watching Ireland packs a punch, with many parts of the country offering a great base for seeing these magnificent marine mammals in all their glory.

In the guide below, you’ll discover everything you need to know if you fancy giving whale watching in Cork a crack in 2021.

Some quick need-to-knows about whale watching in West Cork

whale watching west cork
Photo by Alexey Mhoyan (Shutterstock)

West Cork is one of the best places to see whales in Ireland. Over the years, many species of whale have been recorded in the chilly waters here, from Killer Whales to Humpbacks.

Below, you’ll find some quick need-to-knows about whale watching in Cork, from the best time to see whales to what tour providers are operating in the area.

1. The best time to try whale watching in Cork

Which whales you see depends largely on the time of year that you visit and, it goes without saying, that there’s no 100% cast iron guarantee that you’ll see a whale on the day you visit. 

Minke and Fin Whales can be seen from the early summer months onwards, while Humpback Whales join in the fun from around August to January.

Killer Whales and Long-Finned Pilot Whales are a bit harder to pin down and are seen throughout the year but bear in mind sightings of these amazing creatures are a bit more of a rarity than the others.

2. Where to try whale watching in West Cork

Although the lively little village of Baltimore is arguably the best know departure point for whale watching in West Cork, it’s not the only one.

There are several other whale watch tours in Cork that leave from everywhere from Courtmacsherry to Reen Pier (near Unionhall). More on the tours below.

3. Species of whales recorded in the waters off West Cork

There are a number of whale species that make spectacular appearances off the West Cork coast throughout the year.

Among some of the most notable species include Killer Whales, Minke Whales, Fin Whales, Humpback Whales and the Long-Finned Pilot Whale.

Whale watching tours in West Cork

whale watch tours cork
Photo by Andrea Izzotti (Shutterstock)

Now, before we dive into the different whale watching tours in Cork, there’s a couple of need-to-knows (more, I know…).

The first is that you’re never guaranteed to see whales on any whale watch tour, so keep that in mind.

The second is that the weather can often result in tours being cancelled, so try and plan your trip with this in mind. 

Below, you’ll find 4 different tours to check out if you fancy trying whale watching in Cork in 2021. Note: these are in no particular order and the photos used are all stock and do not show the tour providers mentioned below. 

1. Cork Whale Watch

cork whale watch
Photo by Tory Kallman (Shutterstock)

If you fancy trying whale watching in Cork and you’re staying in Unionhall or Glandore, Cork Whale Watch tours are a great shout, as they’re located a short, 7-minute drive away at Reen Pier.

Where the tour leaves from

All of Cork Whale Watch’s voyages leave from Reen Pier, a small pier that’s about 4km from the village of Unionhall and around a 1hr 30min drive from Cork city. 

How much the tour costs

For adults the tour is €50 per person while it’s €40 for children under 18 years of age. For 3rd level students it’s also €40 if you have a valid student card (note: prices accurate at the time of typing).

When the tours run

They run two trips per day between the April 1st and October 30th and one trip per day between November 1st and 31st of March (note: times accurate at the time of typing). 

2. Baltimore Sea Safari

baltimore sea safari
Photo by takepicsforfun (Shutterstock)

For those of you staying in Baltimore or anywhere in and around Mizen or Skibbereen looking to try whale watching in West Cork, Baltimore Sea Safari are a good shout.

Where the tour leaves from

Baltimore Sea Safari run their boat tours from the charming coastal village of Baltimore, around a 1hr 30min drive from Cork city. 

How much the tour costs

Their 2-2.5-hour Sea Safari boat tours cost €30 per person, while the Evening Adventure 1-hour trip will cost €20 per person (note: prices accurate at the time of typing). 

When the tours run

The Sea Safari trips run twice per day at 11am and 2pm, while the Evening Adventure leaves at 5.30pm (note: times accurate at the time of typing). 

3. Atlantic Whale and Wildlife Tours

atlantic whale tours cork
Photo by Andrea Izzotti (Shutterstock)

Atlantic Whale and Wildlife Tours have racked up some impressive reviews online (4.8/5 on Google at the time of typing).

If you’re staying in Kinsale and you fancy trying whale watching in West Cork, this is a great option, as the tours leave from just 35 minutes away in Courtmacsherry.

Where the tour leaves from

Around an hour’s drive from Cork city, Atlantic Whale and Wildlife Tours’s trips leave from the gorgeous village of Courtmacsherry at the mouth of the River Arigideen.

How much the tour costs

For their four-hour tours, it’s €100 for two adults while for a family of four (two adults, two children) it’ll cost €170. 

Individual children and students are both €40 per tour. They also have a 24-hour cancellation policy (note: prices accurate at the time of typing).

When the tours run

There’s a booking form on their website where you can express your desired day to travel and they will let you know if they’re able to accommodate you (note: times accurate at the time of typing). 

4. Whale Watch West Cork

whale watch west cork
Photo by Annie Leblanc (Shutterstock)

Last our list of tour providers for whale watching in Cork is Whale Watch West Cork, who are also based in Baltimore Village.

These are another popular tour operator and they’ve amassed a 4.7/5 review score from over 120 reviews at the time of typing.

Where the tour leaves from

All of Whale Watch West Cork’s tours leave from Baltimore Harbour, a stone’s throw from a handful of places to eat and sleep.

How much the tour costs

Their four-hour tours cost €55 per person and you can book by online form, e-mail or by phone (note: prices accurate at the time of typing).

When the tours run

Their catamaran Voyager leaves Baltimore twice a day at 9.30am in the morning followed by a second trip at 2.15pm in the afternoon.

During July and August, they run sunset tours leaving at 7pm and early morning sunrise tours can be scheduled according to demand (note: times accurate at the time of typing). 

Why whale watching in Ireland 

Whale watching in Ireland isn’t just limited to Cork – in fact, there are several different places to see whales in Ireland.

Parts of West Kerry and Donegal also record plenty of whale and dolphin sightings every year and there are a couple of reasons why our island is such a popular spot for these stunning marine mammals.

1. Ireland is a whale and dolphin sanctuary

Back in the early 1990’s, the Irish government declared the coastal waters of Ireland a whale and dolphin sanctuary (the first of its kind in Europe) and ever since then there’s been a growth in enthusiasm and respect for these stunning mammals.

2. A busy feeding ground

Why do many species of marine life call these Irish waters home for much of the year? The coastal waters off the southwest of Ireland are a large summer feeding ground for a variety of whale species.

They’re a year-round home for numerous resident dolphin species including the Harbour Porpoise and they feed in Irish waters on a mixture of small shoaling fish and can be seen just a few kilometres offshore!

FAQs about whale watching in West Cork

We’ve had a lot of questions over the years asking about everything from when is the best time to try whale watching in Cork to where tours leave from.

In the section below, we’ve popped in the most FAQs that we’ve received. If you have a question that we haven’t tackled, ask away in the comments section below.

When is the best time for whale watching in West Cork?

Minke and Fin Whales can be seen from the early summer months onwards, while Humpback Whales join in the fun from around August to January. 

Where can you try whale watching in Cork?

The whale watching tours mentioned above leave from Baltimore village, Reen Pier near Union Hall and Courtmacsherry.

Are you guaranteed to see whales in Cork?

No. Although you can head off whale watching in West Cork, it’s never guarenteed that you’ll actually see whales. 

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