Caister fishermen have to share waters with the Norfolk whale

Caister fisherman Dick Thurlow.

Caister fisherman Dick Thurlow. - Credit: Archant

East coast fishermen who had a close encounter with the Norfolk whale have found themselves sharing shipping lanes with the huge creature.

Andrew Easton took this picture of the humpback whale from Sea Palling on Tuesday, October 29.

Andrew Easton took this picture of the humpback whale from Sea Palling on Tuesday, October 29. - Credit: Archant

Caister fishermen Dick and Arron Thurlow must be careful not to get too close to the humpback whale which has drawn crowds to the east coast since it was first spotted from land last Tuesday.

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On Saturday, the pair launched 6am and fished three-to-four miles out between Caister and Horsey, netting a huge haul of North Sea herring.

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Mr Thurlow, former coxswain of Caister lifeboat, believes the whale - the first ever humpback recorded off Norfolk - has been off the east coast for at least two weeks and is, like him, enjoying an unusually large catch.

'There's a massive amount of herring schooling out there,' said Mr Thurlow.

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'We're out there for the same reason. The conditions are perfect.

'The herring I've seen this year are probably the best I've ever seen and I've been fishing since I was 14.

'They're mature, full of roe. I think they come back to where they were hatched to spawn. They should be there for the next week or so if the weather doesn't change.

'We're getting them while we can, and I guess he is too.'

About two weeks ago, the whale came within 30 metres of a fishing vessel Mr Thurlow's son and fellow fisherman Arron was on, surfacing five or six times.

The east coast fishermen are no strangers to encountering marine creatures, often coming across seals, porpoises and sometimes pilot whales.

But sharing the waters with a hungry humpback, estimated to be 10-12m long, means they must be extra vigilant.

'You don't want to get one of those in the nets,' said Mr Thurlow.

'There are a lot of porpoises out there at the moment.

'We use drift nets and if we accidently catch a seal or a porpoise, which happens sometimes, it's not too hard to get them out before we do any harm. I'm not sure we could say the same with a whale.

'It's a big, big animal. The first thing we saw was the blow coming out the water, and you can smell it.'

Experts believe the humpback could over-winter off Norfolk if there is enough food. While this whale appears to be alone, humpbacks are known for an unusual feeding technique called bubblenet feeding, where groups work together to capture large schools of fish.

Each whale has its own role in the process: one blows bubbles around the school to keep the fish from escaping, others make noise to scare or confuse the fish and help bring them to the surface, while others herd the fish together and upwards. Once the fish are at the surface, all the whales lunge upwards with their huge mouths wide open and try to gulp as many fish as they can.

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