Spotting whales in Norfolk

With 2015 being an unprecedented year for sightings of the magnificent humpback whale around the British Isles, wildlife enthusiasts are urged to head to the Norfolk coast to spot one for themselves!

"There's always a huge amount of uncertainty with wildlife-watching, but recent trends would suggest that spotting a humpback whale off the Norfolk coast this autumn/winter is a real possibility," says Kathy James, Sightings Officer for Sea Watch Foundation.

Humpback whale tailA humpback tail fluke used for identification purposes. S Round / Sea Watch Foundation

Humpback whales are uncommon in British waters, but occasionally and increasingly are being encountered in various parts of the UK as well as off the south
and west coasts of Ireland, particularly in summer.

Every year some undertake a long migration between winter breeding grounds off the coasts of Africa and feeding grounds in the North-east Atlantic, mainly around Iceland.

For half a century, the species was extremely rare in British waters after a long history of over-exploitation. However, since the 1980s the species has been recorded regularly from Shetland, NE mainland Scotland, the northern Irish Sea, and the Western Approaches to the Channel. In the last few years, however, sightings have started to appear in the southern North Sea off East Anglia, Kent, and the Belgian and Dutch coasts.

This year so far, humpbacks have been sighted off Shetland, Grampian Region, Cornwall, the English Channel, Liverpool Bay and the north and west coasts of Scotland. Closer to home, there was also an unconfirmed report of a humpback off Kelling Hard in Norfolk on April 12th.

Carl Chapman, Regional Coordinator for Sea Watch Foundation, hopes that other large whales may be seen this autumn too. "The 'big whale' season here starts roughly the 20th October and lasts through to mid-November as the animals come down from Scotland, Yorkshire and maybe across from Holland following the herring. The fish then disperse off Great Yarmouth. This mimics the tracks of the herring drifters that operated in the past out of the port there," says local wildlife expert Carl.

And it's not just humpback whales that folks will see from the coast of East Anglia. There are harbour porpoise aplenty, and occasional minke whales to be seen and one could possibly observe pilot whales not to mention dolphin species such as the white-beaked dolphin.

Sea Watch is a national foundation dedicated to the research and conservation of whales, dolphins and porpoises around the British Isles.

Scientists are able to identify individual humpbacks by patterns on their tail flukes. Using photographs from the sightings, Sea Watch Foundation can see if the animals have been recorded before by attempting to match them to the national catalogue that they hold. This information helps to determine information such as how the animals use particular habitats, their range, and life processes.

If you are lucky enough to spot one of these giant tail flukes, or even the tiny dorsal fin of a harbour porpoise, please let the scientists at Sea Watch Foundation know. Sightings of whales, dolphins and porpoises can easily be submitted online at www.seawatchfoundation.org.uk/sightingsform/.

If you would like to become involved in actively watching for whales locally, then please contact Sea Watch Regional Coordinator, Carl, on carl@wildlifetoursandeducation.co.uk.

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