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Have a whale of a time off Suffolk's coast - humpback whales expected this autumn

PUBLISHED: 08:29 29 October 2015 | UPDATED: 08:29 29 October 2015

Scientists are predicting a humpback whale could be seen off Suffolk this autumn. Photo: Peter Evans/ Sea Watch Foundation

Scientists are predicting a humpback whale could be seen off Suffolk this autumn. Photo: Peter Evans/ Sea Watch Foundation

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Wildlife enthusiasts are being urged to head to the Norfolk and Suffolk coast to spot a magnificent humpback whale this autumn.

Scientists say it has been an unprecedented year for sightings of the huge creatures – and believe this month and next they will appear off the region’s shores.

Kathy James, sightings officer for the Sea Watch Foundation, said: “There’s always a huge amount of uncertainty with wildlife-watching, but recent trends would suggest that spotting a humpback whale off the Suffolk or Norfolk coast this autumn and winter is a real possibility.”

Over the past two years, Sea Watch has received records of humpback whales spotted from the Suffolk and Norfolk coasts.

They are still uncommon in British waters, but occasionally and increasingly are being encountered in various parts of the UK, as well as off the south and west coasts of Ireland – particularly in the summer.

Every year, some undertake a long migration between winter breeding grounds off the coasts of Africa and feeding grounds in the north-east Atlantic, mainly around Iceland. For half a century, the species was extremely rare in British waters after a long history of over-exploitation.

Carl Chapman, regional co-ordinator for the Sea Watch Foundation, said: “The ‘big whale’ season here starts on roughly October 20 and lasts through to mid-November as the animals come down from Scotland, Yorkshire and maybe across from Holland following the herring.

“The fish then disperse off Yarmouth. This mimics the tracks of the herring drifters that operated in the past out of the port there.”

He added that it was not just humpback whales which could be visible but also plenty of harbour porpoise and occasional minke whales, pilot whales and dolphin species such as the white-beaked dolphin.

Scientists are able to identify individual humpbacks by patterns on their tail flukes.

Using photographs from the sightings, the Sea Watch Foundation can see if the animals have been recorded before by attempting to match them to the national catalogue it holds.

This information helps to determine information such as how the animals use particular habitats, their range and their life processes.

Anyone who spots one of the giant tail flukes, or the tiny dorsal fin of a harbour porpoise, is asked to let the scientists at Sea Watch Foundation know. Sightings of whales, dolphins and porpoises can be submitted online at www.seawatchfoundation.org.uk/sightingsform

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