One of the rarest and most impressive sights in the natural world has been captured off the coast of Ireland.
Two fin whales – massive creatures which grow to about 80 feet (24 metres) – have been filmed by the Irish Air Corps as they repeatedly breached Atlantic waters about 150 miles off Mizen Head in Co Cork.
The dramatic footage was shot as the crew of the maritime Casa patrol plane carried out inspections on a tuna fishing fleet.
Captain Brendan O’Dowd was piloting the plane when they spotted the track of the whales in the water and the creatures burst from the surface of the ocean.
“It’s remarkable. They’ve maybe never been seen breaching like that in Irish waters,” he said.
“We had noticed a whale’s footprint, the mark they leave in the water if you like, which you get used to seeing, but one was literally doing a back-flip out of the water.
“The first whale is actually breaching the water and coming down slapping the surface and there’s another coming behind, following along.”
The Charlie 253 plane was about 1,000ft (305m) above in the air and travelling at 160 miles an hour when it began to circle the two whales about one-and-a-half miles away.
Camera operator Corporal Aidan Murphy managed to capture the unique footage despite the manoeuvres.
The whales were filmed using a Forward Looking Infra-Red camera which is normally used to identify materials on boats from distance or in the hunt for survivors in search and rescue operations.
Capt O’Dowd, who is a pilot and publicity officer for the Air Corps, said that when they came back from the mission they were told there had been reports of fin whales or blue whales in the area they had been monitoring.
“Little did they know. For me personally it was great to get them on photograph and on video,” he said.
“To be able to share the images with the public, to be able to show somebody else this incredible breaching, it’s such a rare thing, a rare sight, it’s fantastic to get it on camera.”
Capt O’Dowd, who has been piloting the Casa for 10 years and has been with the Air Corps for 16 years, said he had never seen a sight like it, only blue whales returning to Irish waters for the first time in decades two years ago and on a separate mission a pod of about 100 whales moving through the ocean.
“It’s a pretty good thing to see,” he said.