Humpback whale off the coast of Devon

Photo Credit: Lucy Grable

Photo Credit: Lucy Grable

It was an exciting weekend for those on the south coast of Devon where hundreds of wildlife enthusiasts flocked to catch a glimpse of  a humpback whale.

The whale sighting was first reported last Thursday from Start Bay at Strete Gate and spent a total of four days in the Slapton and Torcross area.

Humpback whales are a rare sight in the south-west although there seems to be an increase in sightings in recent years. Most encounters around the UK have been in Scotland and Northern Ireland, but humpback whales have also been observed around the coastlines of Cornwall, Devon, Kent, Suffolk, Norfolk, Yorkshire, Northumberland and the north-west. The whales are usually encountered in UK waters when travelling between their wintering breeding grounds in warm, low latitude, tropical waters off the coast of Cape Verde/West Africa and in Caribbean waters and their feeding grounds in cooler, higher latitude, polar waters mainly around Iceland and Norway.

Their rarity around the south-west led to concerns that the whale was distressed, ill or injured. However, over the course of the weekend there were reports from several marine organisations and marine biologists that the whale was consistent in movement, swimming strongly, feeding well and in a good condition. It is very likely that the whale simply stayed in the area for a few days to take advantage of the good feeding with mackerel and herring known to be present.

Instead what was of concern was the level of human activity around the humpback whale. Boating traffic was quickly patrolled to ensure the whale’s safety. Disturbing a whale, dolphin or porpoise is illegal in the UK with offenders being fined up to £5000. Onlookers were encouraged to observe from land to allow the whale to feed naturally and leave the bay on its own accord.

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Lucy Grable

Lucy Grable

MSc Species Identification and Survey Skills student at Reading Uni | BSc Marine Zoology | Website Editor MARINElife | Zanzibar humpback whale researcher|Marine wildlife enthusiast

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