“Whales Galore!” was the title of the email sent into the Sea Watch Foundation office late in the evening of Tuesday 6th May.
Local regional coordinator, Alan Airey, was delighted to have seen a group of five minke whales from the shore at Burghead. Not only was this a great sighting in itself, they were displaying the characteristic ‘lunging’ behaviour of these fish and plankton-eating whales. “Minkes measure 7-10 metres in length so this would have been a spectacular sight” said Kathy James, Sightings Officer.
In addition to this sighting, Alan finished his watch off the Moray coast by spotting the second largest whale species in the world – a fin whale!
“Fin whales are usually found beyond the continental shelf in the ocean deeps and so any sighting around UK shores is special. It wouldn’t be so unusual to see this species west of the Outer Hebrides or off the Northern Isles of Scotland, but a nearshore sighting like this is out of the ordinary” remarked Kathy.
Alan is a very experienced cetacean observer and noted “For a second I thought it was a humpback, then as the very slight swell rolled down its body it revealed its full fin”.
There are just three records of fin whale on the Sea Watch Foundation database sighted during 2013 in coastal waters of England, Scotland and Wales collectively. The Isle of Man lays claim to one sighting, with others being off Inverness and Whitby in North Yorkshire. This is actually the second time Alan has seen a fin whale at this location, his first back in April 2007.
Southwest Wales saw the largest ever group of fin whales recorded in UK coastal waters in August 2005. “It was one of the most memorable sights of my life. We believe they were all attracted by the large numbers of herring which were present in the area at that time” noted Sea Watch Foundation founder and director, Dr Peter Evans.
“Large creatures such as fin whales are part of the UK’s fauna and most people are oblivious to their presence. A mammal, even the size of a porpoise, would cause a stir on land, but under the sea they go unnoticed” said Alan.
“We would urge people along the coast of Moray to keep a look out for more whale activity and report it to us at Sea Watch so that we can establish whether this fin whale sighting is a one-off, and what fish may be present in the area just now that are attracting this species as well as the minkes observed” suggested Kathy.
Sightings of whales, dolphins and porpoises can easily be submitted on our online sightings form: www.seawatchfoundation.org.uk/sightingsform/