The 20 metre whale beached at Keel, Achill, over Christmas has prompted some calls for a new tourism attraction focused on the region’s whale history.
Large crowds descended on Keel beach over the holidays to view the giant creature, which became stranded and died there on Christmas Eve.
In 2009, a similar sized fin whale was stranded on a beach near the west Cork village of Kilbrittain.
The whale was to be buried by Cork County Council but locals worked to get the appropriate permissions to recover and preserve the whale skeleton. It was put on display and developed into a tourism attraction.
According to John O’Shea, a local representative for the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group (IWDG ) based in Dooagh, Achill, the island and wider region has a rich and fascintating whale history and it may have been a missed opportunity to preserve the animal in a similar way.
The whale was buried on Keel beach on Tuesday in a major three-hour operation using excavators.
Mr O’Shea explained there were two Norwegian owned whaling stations operating north of the island in the early 1900s. The Arranmore Whaling Company and the Blacksod Whaling Company killed fin and other whales in local waters for their highly valuable blubber, used to make oil, and other by-products such as their meat and their bones, which were used in lady’s corsets.
“There is a fascinating history there,” said Mr O’Shea. “These whaling stations killed 700 whales between 1908 and 1914. In one year, in 1911, the Blacksod Bay Whaling Company caught 53 fin whales and the Arranmore Whaling Company killed 57. There could be alot of interest in the history of these stations and in whale life in our waters.”
He said some 300 to 500 fin whales pass through Irish waters each year, mainly off the south and west coast.
The fin whale is the second largest creature on the planet. The animal at Keel beach was estimated to weigh some 40 tons.
Local man Tom Honeyman said it was the biggest animal stranded in recent memory. “This was quite a sight. The idea that we could do something similar to what was done [in Kilbrittain] did come up.”
Achill’s Councillor Michael McNamara said the crowds visiting Achill for the rare opportunity to view such a large animal at close quarters, albeit in unfortunate circumstances, shows there is plenty of interest in these creatures.
“It did generate a large influx of people here over the few days,” he said. “There was even traffic jams at one stage. It could be something to consider for the future.”