A humpback whale in Loch Long off the west coast of Scotland gave the skipper of the 60 ton ketch St Hilda of St Hilda Sea Adventures, and a family taking a three-day wildlife adventure, a sighting more than they bargained for!
They had left Holy Loch marina hoping to see dolphins, porpoises, basking sharks, otters, red squirrels and possibly the smaller minke whale, but a humpback whale, which can measure up to 16 metres and weigh up to 35tons, was not on the list!
And now the national marine and conservation charity Sea Watch is calling on holidaymakers and locals to help ID the animal by photographing it to see if it can be matched with other known individuals.
The St Hilda was about five miles from the loch head at Arrochar on Thursday August 30 when skipper Michael Marshall and the Evans family from Alton, Hampshire saw a lot of splashing. At first they thought it was a dolphin, but it soon became clear that what they were seeing was much, much bigger.
Michael Marshall: “We first saw an enormous splash about 300 yards away and as we drew nearer we saw even more splashing as the tail slapped the water and sent up clouds of spray. Then we saw the whale breach and go back in on its side before finally disappearing. When we anchored up shortly afterwards we were fishing for our supper and there were hundreds of huge mackerel which I think it must have been hunting.”
Sea Watch Sightings Officer Danielle Gibas said: “There have been two other reports of humpback whales this year off the west coast. One off Stevenston Point, Ayshire, on 28th May and one on 27th March around 2 miles north east of Tarbert, Loch Fyne. Both sightings were of single individual animals.
“ It is highly unusual for one to travel so far up a loch, If the humpback is still in the loch we think there is a high possibility that it can be photographed. Photographs would help us to determine whether it is the same individual, or a number of animals, visiting the area.
“You identify humpbacks using the white markings on the underside of the tail fluke. The shape of these white markings, and the percentage of white on the tail, is different on individual animals. Ideally we would like a photo of the tail just as the animal is diving which would give us a full view of these marks. “
Since 2006 there have been 20 reported sightings of humpbacks on the west coast of Scotland. In October 2006 a single humpback was seen near Dunoon in Loch Long much closer to the sea mouth.
For the Evans family it was not the first time they have seen a humpback whale. When they were holidaying in America in Monterey Bay last year they saw blue whales and humpbacks, but never thought they would see either species back in the UK
Alice Evans, 19 said: “It was incredible. At first, when we saw the splashing we thought it was dolphins, and then we thought maybe minke whale but when we saw it breach and come out of the water, we could see its shape, and it was all black .”
Her brother Nick, 16, said: “It was amazing. We weren’t expecting it ! “
Michael Marshall says he has been working on boats for seven years in the area, and is used to coming across basking shark , but has never before seen a humpback whale in the area . He estimates it was 10 metres or more in size.