Humpback Whale off Norfolk

I made a prediction in July. I foresaw that within 5 years we would be watching a Humpback Whale off the Norfolk coastline. Having committed this to print in the latest Norfolk Bird and Mammal Report I was relived yesterday morning when Ryan Irvine called me to say he’d seen one off Hemsby. A first for Norfolk and four and a half years to spare! Good on ye Ryan.

It was later seen further north. I couldn’t make it there yesterday but did make it today and amazingly it was still offshore. Although distant it appeared to be breathing quite well and also feeding accompanied by a flock of diving Gannet.

It was as I was about to move on I noticed the whale had covered an inordinately large distance in a very short time. This of course is possible. They can move quickly. My mind momentarily slipped to asking … ‘could there be two?’ but I dismissed the thought. How ridiculous would that be! I mean two Humpbacks off norfolk … laughable.

Looking at the photos this evening some I’ve taken seen to show classic Humpback features of a lumpy fin with a bushy blow. Some even show the splashguard despite the animal being two to three miles distant. However several shots show some extensive white scaring/calcareous growth on the dorsal fin. This leads me to think I may have been right. There are perhaps two animals.

Most humpbacks are identifiable by the pattern on the underside of their tail flukes; it’s like a fingerprint. Any large whale off Norfolk is unlikely to show its tail flukes often, if at all. The water is not deep enough here for a full dive which is when a whale would show the underside of the tail as it ‘handstands’ prior to submerging.

The scaring on fins is also known to be useful in identifying Humpbacks. Indeed the first Humpback to be named is called ‘Salt’ and is so named because of her white dorsal fin. She returns each summer to the Stellwagen Bank off Massachusetts.

If there are two whales off Norfolk and one has a white fin marking I wonder if we can identify it to an individual?

Please bear in mind how distant the whale(s) were when looking at the photos.

Humpback 1

No white on dorsal fin

Humpback 2

No white on dorsal fin

Humpback 3

Two points of white on dorsal fin

Humpback 4

… and likewise

As an example of white markings on dorsal fins, here’s a photo I took several years ago of ‘Salt’

2009 10 12 Humpback Whale Mass USA IMG_6496


10 Responses to “Humpback Whale off Norfolk”

  1. Oct 30, 2013 at 11:46 pm

    A great find… and indeed prediction! RH

  2. Oct 30, 2013 at 11:50 pm

    Reblogged this on Dear Kitty. Some blog and commented:
    Reminds me of these humpback whales …

  3. 8 Adam Hughes
    Nov 1, 2013 at 11:36 pm

    Reblogged this on Freedom for Cetaceans.

  4. 9 flowergarden**
    Nov 9, 2013 at 2:47 pm

    I believe my family and I saw a humpback at a similar time last year off Sheringham where we live,we watched it for some considerable time as it appeared to roll repeatedly from side to side in the shallower water before eventually heading further out towards Cromer but still in line with the coast .We didn’t report it because it was a fair way out and didn’t think it was possible so just put it down to something less remarkable like strange seal behaviour or similar .I kept saying to my husband that I could have sworn that was a whale !! Now I know that it may well have been .I will be watching more closely from now on.

    • Nov 9, 2013 at 5:46 pm

      Please do report anything you see and thank you for your note.
      Take a look at http://www.norfolkcetaceans.wordpress.com where there’s a reporting form for your sightings. There’s also a helpful ID chart which describes some of the blows made by whales that help to distinguish species. If you are in any doubt about what you are looking at send me a mail or better still give me a call so I can help with the ID – preferably as you have the cetacean in view!
      Thanks again for your sighting.

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Oct 2013


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