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Mystery of Barleycove whale bones solved

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The mystery of the Barleycove whale bones has been solved, thanks to an eagle-eyed family from Co Wicklow with a hidden talent for marine anatomy.

The O’Tooles, who live near Greystones, have come forward to explain how they found a random pile of bones during a walk on Barleycove beach on the Mizen peninsula in West Cork last Saturday, and then set about reassembling them like a giant Lego set, before heading home.

Little did they realise that their beach-day fun of laying out a whale skeleton in near-perfect anatomical order would spark a mystery, raise the suspicions of marine experts, and become the focus of media attention.

Pádraig Whooley, sightings officer with the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group, was the first to suggest that the skeleton had been laid out deliberately but locals said it would have taken huge effort to do so, given the location.

Now, Marcus O’Toole, who was on holiday in Barleycove with his wife, Sara, and their daughters, Ava, 12, and Zoe, 7, last weekend, has explained their central role in the “mystery”.

“I was shocked to learn that this was such a surprise to people,” he said.

“We set out that evening just to explore, collect litter, and look for crabs.

“I spotted something from the distance and we thought it was plastic containers or something to do with fishing gear.

“When we got closer it became apparent that there was some sort of set of bones.” 

Ava and Zoe O'Toole, from Co Wicklow, discovered and reassembled the whale bones on Barleycove beach last weekend, inadvertently sparking a mystery. Picture: Marcus O'Toole
Ava and Zoe O’Toole, from Co Wicklow, discovered and reassembled the whale bones on Barleycove beach last weekend, inadvertently sparking a mystery. Picture: Marcus O’Toole

The skull was upside down on the shoreline but most of the spinal and ribcage bones were retrieved from the channel.

Marcus said: “I then thought it was a cow but once we flipped the head over, I knew it was something much bigger — so we decided to see if we were right.

“When we started to assemble the spine we did not expect it to be as large as it was and were trying to figure out what bones went where.

“Ava and Zoe were just fascinated finding such a large animal and were guessing what type of whale it could be but knew it was not a blue whale or a shark though as they had hoped.

“So we got it largely assembled but then the tide quickly began to come in so we left it, assuming it’s just something everyone knew about.

“Then much to our surprise on Monday we were made aware of some newspaper articles by a family member from the area and here we are.” 

 Ava and Zoe O'Toole with the reassembled  whale bones.
 Ava and Zoe O’Toole with the reassembled  whale bones.

He has been in contact with Mr Whooley to explain how the bones came to be on the beach and said consideration is being given to retrieving the bones and using them for educational outreach work.

He said he was told that the family did a remarkable job reassembling the bones in near-perfect anatomical order — although they have since discovered that they mistook shoulder blade bones for fin bones and laid the spine out much longer than the animal would have been.

But he said the entire episode has piqued his daughters’ interest in marine life.

“This might inspire them to become marine biologists. We love getting down to Barleycove and this has sparked a lot of curiosity about whale watching for Ava and Zoe so will definitely get down again and try to spot some in the wild this time,” he said.

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