Belfast Telegraph

Humpback has a whale of a time in Strangford

By Linda Stewart

A humpback whale has been spotted in the Strangford Narrows in Co Down — only the fourth ever validated humpback sighting in Northern Irish waters.

Whale experts are calling on the public to watch for further sightings of the rare whale and forward images so that they can attempt to identify it.

The sighting means 2012 is the third consecutive year that a humpback has been recorded in Northern Irish waters, according to the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group (IWDG).

The latest sighting is just 25 miles south of the location of the previous sighting, off Bangor on June 14, 2011.

On July 11, 2010, a single humpback was recorded off Rathlin Island.

IWDG sightings co-ordinator Padraig Whooley said it highlights a trend towards increased sightings of this large baleen whale species in Irish waters.

“As recently as the 1960s it was thought by whale biologists that humpbacks were on the verge of extinction in the North Atlantic, as a result of over-exploitation by whaling nations,” he said.

“So this is indeed part of a larger positive conservation story as humpback whales have been protected now for several decades, and it seems likely that their numbers are on the increase.”

Mr Whooley said the almost land-locked location of the sighting is particularly unusual as the whale was seen in the fast-running waters in the Strangford Narrows close to the Seagen tidal generator at a point that is only about 500 metres wide.

“The recorders, Peter Elliot and Neil Hastie, who observed and filmed it at around 4pm, are confident that it was feeding on herring at the time.

“Although the initial report left some doubt as to its species, the brief video clip sent to IWDG on April 15 leaves no doubt as to its species,” he said.

“While this humpback whale may still be in the area, IWDG would request any members of the public fortunate enough to spot this animal and secure any images to forward them and indeed their sightings to IWDG, so we can attempt to match the tail-flukes with the other 20 humpbacks currently on the Irish humpback whale catalogue on www.iwdg.ie.

“It would be important for us to establish whether this is the same animal photographed off Bangor in June 2011.

“This is often the case off the south coast where IWDG have documented inter-annual re-sightings of the same individuals over several years.

“Ideally, we'd ask people to try to wait for it to lift its tail-fluke out of the water, and photograph the unique pattern on the ventral (under) surface of the tail.

“Any fluke shots will be forwarded to the curators of the North Atlantic Humpback Whale catalogue in Maine, USA ,for matching against a database of over 7,000 recognisable humpback whales in the North Atlantic,” said Mr Whooley.

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