On 23rd July, the crew aboard the Manx Basking Shark Watch research vessel were enjoying a good day out surveying when they spotted a large animal gliding through the water. They were about 6 miles off Peel, on the west coast of the Isle of Man. Although only seen briefly, one of the research volunteers had enough time to grab her camera and get a couple of images of this mysterious creature. After consultation with the Manx Whale and Dolphin Watch, it was identified as a humpback whale.
Humpback whales make huge annual migrations, from summer feeding grounds around Iceland and Norway to winter breeding grounds off Africa. They are sometimes encountered off the west coast of Ireland and off northern Scotland whilst undertaking this mammoth journey, but are rarely seen in the Irish Sea. This is the first photographed record of this species in Manx waters in the last few years.
This humpback whale is possibly the same individual that has been seen off Rathlin Island and Dublin over the last couple of weeks, although this cannot be confirmed. If anyone is out on the water and sees a humpback whale, you can report it to the Manx Whale and Dolphin Watch (www.mwdw.net). Please remember that it is an offence to harass any whale, dolphin or shark in Manx waters, so if you do come across this magnificent animal respect its space by maintaining a distance of 100 metres away. If possible, please try to photograph the animal, especially if it raises its tail flukes out of the water. The underside of the tail has distinctive white markings which, along with the shape and nicks out of the trailing edge, are unique to each individual.
Humpback whale populations were decimated by whalers in the 19th and 20th centuries, but have been slowly increasing since being protected by the ban on commercial whaling in 1966. Perhaps as their population recovers we will have more sightings of this majestic whale in Manx waters?