There have been numerous reports of a northern bottlenose whale sighted off the coast of Bournemouth, Dorset. The first report of a sighting, close to Bournemouth pier, came on the 12th September; although at the end of August there was a report of an unidentified whale which matches the description further east in central Sussex. The whale seems to be staying in the same area since sightings of the animal continued to be reported from Alum Chine, Bournemouth on the 13th, 14th and 15th September.
Sightings of this species tend to be rare and those that do come so close to shore often strand. The northern bottlenose whale (Hyperoodon ampullatus) is endemic to the North Atlantic, favouring colder, deeper water often over 1000m deep. Their main diet consists of deep living squid, occasionally herring, deep sea fish, shrimp and sea cucumbers. The animals tend to feed close to the sea bed in deep waters, hence the rarity of seeing them in the relatively shallow coastal waters around the UK.
In late summer and autumn these animals make migratory movements from the Norwegian Sea travelling west and turning south into the North Atlantic Ocean on the western coast of the UK. It is sometimes the case that the whales turn south too early and find themselves in the North Sea. They instinctively try to go westwards to get back on track and this is why we sometimes see these animals far up estuaries such as the northern bottlenose whale in the River Thames in 2006.
It is hoped that the whale will continue to travel westwards along the English Channel and into deeper waters to feed. The fact that the whale has remained in the same area for a few days is sadly not a good sign and stranding coordinators are on alert in the case that the animal does strand.
If anyone does see the animal again in the coming days please report it to firstname.lastname@example.org (Lower image: Mark Hows).