There has been a spate of large whales spotted around the UK over June and July. These great whales tend to be seen in the summer months of the UK whilst on their migration routes towards the poles although some species like the southwestern UK populations of fin whales are thought to stay all year round, breeding in our waters.
The most frequent species of large whale that has been reported this summer so far is interestingly the humpback. Humpback whales can sometimes be seen throughout the UK on their way from wintering and breeding grounds off the coast of Africa to feeding grounds around Iceland and in the Barents Sea. In the past few weeks we have had a number of reports of humpbacks. Since late June, humpback whale sightings have been reported off Peel, Isle of Man; a mother and calf between Skokhom Island and St Ann’s Head, Pembrokeshire; an adult off Culswick, Shetland; one off Canna, Inner Hebrides; and, most recently, during National Whale & Dolphin Watch, off Oxna Isle in Shetland on the 19th July and another probable juvenile off Lybster, Caithness on the 23rd July. Humpback whales are one of the easiest whales to identify thanks to their distinctive tail fluke, knobbly head and long pectoral fins. They can reach up to 15 metres in length and the tail fluke, up to 5 metres across is often lifted high in the air when deep diving. The fluke’s characteristics can be used for photo identification of individuals. Heavily depleted by hunting during the last century, eastern North Atlantic populations appear to be recovering, and could well become a regular and dramatic sight around our shores.
Fin whales, the second largest of all whales in the world are frequently seen both offshore and in coastal waters off northwest Scotland, southwest Ireland and the CelticSea between southern Ireland and west Wales . There have been a couple of sightings of fin whales in Ireland this summer on the west coast of Cork and off Dublin, whilst two fin whales were spotted on the 29th June off St Kilda, Outer Hebrides. Fin whales can reach up to 24 metres in length coming second only to the blue whale. It is slate grey in colour with a V-shaped, flattened, head whilst a distinguishing feature is the lower jaw, which is white on the right but dark on the left. It has a small backwards pointing dorsal fin two-thirds along towards the back of the animal.
A rare sighting of a sei whale was reported off Northumberland on the 21st June. These animals are sporadic and unpredictably distributed but have a worldwide distribution. They can reach up to 21 metres in length and a distinguishing feature is a tall dorsal fin between 25 and 60 cm high that is very erect and strongly sickle shaped, positioned approximately two-thirds of the way of the back. Recent sightings surveys indicate that there is a population of a few thousand individuals in the North Atlantic.
These few weeks have highlighted that there is no need to go abroad to see these great animals, so go to the British or Irish coastlines and get whale watching…!