Afternoon update: Humpback whale spotted off east Norfolk coast
PUBLISHED: 14:21 30 October 2013 | UPDATED: 15:59 30 October 2013
Experts say the whale swimming off the east coast is the first ever recorded sighting of a humpback from Norfolk.
The whale, estimated to be about 10 to 12 metres in length, was first spotted off Hemsby, near Great Yarmouth, at 7.30am yesterday when it was just 600m from shore. It then moved to Winterton-on-Sea where it swam and fed in front of onlookers for at least two hours.
Today, crowds have been watching it from Horsey and Winterton and further north. It could still be seen from Sea Palling at 3.15pm.
Carl Chapman, Norfolk’s cetacean recorder and a co-ordinator for the national Sea Watch Foundation, has confirmed that it is the first ever recorded sighting of a humpback off Norfolk.
Mr Chapman said the whale, which has been swimming two or three miles off Horsey and Winterton today - making it quite difficult to see in the distance, could stay in our waters for months.
“It’s not a surprise; I predicted this would happen as their numbers increase internationally, but it’s certainly a surprise it has happened so soon. I predicted it would happen in the next five years,” he said.
“It hasn’t happened before. This is unrecorded in Norfolk.
“It’s still about and it could even overwinter here.”
Yesterday, the whale was watched as it travelled from Hemsby to Winterton, Horsey and Sea Palling before disappearing over the horizon at 1.40pm. Dozens of bird watchers and locals took long-len telescopes and binoculars to get a closer look, while experts monitored its movement from afar to make sure it was not sick or at risk of becoming beached.
Humpbacks are one of the most easily recognised whale species; they are identified by their large flippers – almost one-third of their body size, the hump on their backs and distinctive markings on their underside.
Reaching between 40 and 50 feet in length, they can weigh up to 48 tons and are the fifth largest of their species.
Ryan Irvine, a seabird scientist with Gardline Environmental in Great Yarmouth, was at home with his partner, Tabitha Pearman, in Hemsby, when they spotted the humpback out at sea at 7.30am yesterday.
“We were at home and first noticed the blow from our living room,” said Mr Irvine.
“We both work offshore doing wildlife surveys, including work with marine mammals. I knew it was a humpback through my work and Tabitha has seen humpbacks before and confirmed the sighting.
“As far as I’m aware this is the first sighting for Norfolk, although one was seen off Dunwich in September this year.”
Emma Webb, area coordinator with British Divers Marine Life Rescue, said it is likely the humpback spotted off north Suffolk last month could be the same creature seen yesterday.
“We deal with strandings and sick seals and we were a little concerned the humpback may have been ill,” said Miss Webb. “Humpbacks are used to shallow water, but if it’s in an area it doesn’t know there’s a risk it could get caught out, so we just wanted to monitor the situation and make sure it was OK.”
Miss Webb said the whale’s behaviour suggested it was perfectly healthy - and if there was enough fish to feed on it could stick around for days.
“It’s certainly worth keeping an eye out over the next few days as it could still be out there,” added Brian Egan, manager of the Rare Bird Alert service which has been keeping whale watchers updated via Twitter.