Posts Tagged ‘Sei Whale

25
Jul
21

How to identify a Sei Whale

Since I published the post on visiting the Albatross in Yorkshire and the Sei whale in Scotland I’ve had a couple of conversations about how to recognize Sei Whale from other similar cetaceans. I did a composite photo with some tell tale detail for another social media site, so I’ve repeated it again here. I feel sure some Minke Whale sightings in the UK are in fact Sei Whales and perhaps this species is being overlooked and is not as rare here as we may suppose.

Minke is much smaller than Sei. So size is important but is so difficult to judge at sea. However, there are three other important differences that are easier to judge

1 The Blow – A Minke’s blow is rarely visible. Sei blow habitually.

2 The dorsal fin – A Sei whale has a scythe like fin on its back and although a Minke whale’s fin is similar it is never as ‘hooked’ as a Sei Whale.

3 The dive sequence – A Minke will bend in the water, arch over and ‘dive’. A Sei Whale will just ‘sink’ horizontally as shown by the progression of photos.

Oh! and while we’re talking ‘cetacean’ a reminder the Sea Watch Foundation National Whale and Dolphin Watch is in progress. Tania and I will be on the cliff just east of Weybourne car park on TUESDAY 27th JULY from 10am to 4pm if you care to join us at any time. The weather is forecast to be mixed so please bring wet weather clothing just in case.

22
Jul
21

Brows and blows

After a busy few months Tania and I wanted to get away for a few days. So we made a plan. First stop Bempton to see the Black-browed Albatross. I’d seen the Sula Sgeir bird a decade or more ago but how could you say no to an Albatross in British waters. You just ‘have’ to go and see it. They are the bees knees of seabirds. A thought not shared by the Gannets who didn’t take to their larger cousin at all. He ousted a few off the cliffs to crash land among them. Tania had great views of the bird as she looked down on the bird circling below her.

First part of the plan completed we thought we’d carry on North and visit Kinghorn. Now this is the second time this year I’ve called at this pretty village just over the Forth from Edinburgh. I paid a visit at the end of May. The idea then was to see if the guests on the UK Mammal Tour could add Sei Whale to their lists. Despite it’s rarity in UK waters there had been one kicking around in the Firth of Forth for a few weeks. Sadly it wasn’t to be as the whale didn’t play ball. However, Tania and I thought it would be worth a revisit this week as the Sei Whale was still being seen with some regularity. It took some time, but eventually the third largest animal on the planet graced us with a ‘swim-past’. In fact two; once going up river and then a second as it returned East. Thanks to Ronnie Mackie for his invaluable help and great company in seeking out this addition to our British mammal list. The last time I saw one of these creatures it was amid the clear waters of a Chilean Fjord on the day Tania and I first met; a long way from a small seaside town on the East coast of Scotland.

07
Nov
14

Identifying Distant Large Whales off the East Coast

If you follow www.norfolkcetaceans.wordpress.com you will know that last Tuesday a large whale was seen off Winterton here in Norfolk. Although the identification was inconclusive it was thought by at least one of the individuals who saw it to have been a Humpback. I attended as soon as I could and spent the rest of the day trying to get a glimpse of the whale … without success. It was not until the following day when the Whale was relocated at Mundesley were sufficient features noted to put its identification beyond doubt.

It’s always difficult when cetaceans are distant to be sure what you are seeing so I thought I’d put down a few pointers of what to look for when faced with a distant large whale in the North Sea. It goes without saying decent binoculars and a spotting scope are essential.

The first thing to consider is what a large whale off Norfolk could be. So what large whales regularly occur in the North Sea? The rouquals (whales with baleen plates in their mouth) Minke, Humpback, Sei and Fin are not adverse to the reasonably shallow waters of the North Sea. Of the toothed whales, Sperm Whales have occurred but are not regular. This list excludes Bottlenose Whale, the Pilot Whales and Beaked Whales as I’m not considering them as ‘large’; though if I was in the water face to face with a Sowerby’s Beaked Whale I might change my mind.

Here are some identification points for large whales in the order of most probability of their occurrence.

The blow of a Minke is very rarely seen except in particularly cold and damp conditions. The dorsal fin is sickle shaped and shows at the same time as the blow. Minke’s rarely breach.

The blow of a Humpback is very visible and bushy. The dorsal fin is squat, rounded and positioned after a bump on the back which gives the animal its name. It’s a performer, often shows its long pectoral fins and flukes as well as often breaching.

A whale to consider that hasn’t (officially) been seen off Norfolk is the Fin Whale. They are large. They are the second largest animal on the planet. They too have a sickle shaped fin but it is set far back on a long body and therefore appears just after the blow. They have asymmetrical colouring on the head. The right side is white. The left is dark. The white patch sometimes extends up the right side in a chevron shape behind the blowhole. The blow is up to 6m in height is narrow and cone shaped.

Sei Whales have never been seen off Norfolk. Intermittent in size between Minke and Fin the blow is seen simultaneously with the fin which is erect and curved on the back edge.

Blue Whales have also not yet been recorded in Norfolk and there are few records from the North Sea. However, they are certainly not strangers to shallow waters. The fin often doesn’t appear until the whale is about to dive and looks small compared to the size of the animal. The blow is up to 9m tall. The colour of Blue Whales is surprisingly ‘bluish’.

In the distant past there is evidence that Sperm Whales have been seen offshore but if they stay they invariably die as they require squid as both a source of food and a source of liquid sustenance. All whales derive their fluid they need from the food they eat. Squid require deep water to survive; far deeper than what the North Sea offers. Sperm Whales have a nobly back rather than a true dorsal fin.

So the features to look for on a distant large cetacean, in order of importance are:

Fin shape

Shape and size of blow

Size of animal

When the fin shows relative to blow

Any breaching

Any colouring seen

Fin Whale

A Fin Whale I photographed in the Hudson River showing the sickle shaped dorsal fin

 

 




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