With humpback whales reported to be breaching around Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly as winter migrations get underway, Cornwall Wildlife Trust (CWT) says it is hoping that this is the start of a bumper season of marine megafauna sightings.
An adult and juvenile humpback were the first whales to be caught on camera off the Lizard peninsula on 29 November, with other sightings occurring in Mounts Bay and between Land’s End and St Mary’s on the Isles of Scilly on 1 December, the latter consisting of five individuals.
“Only in the last few years have humpback whale sightings been on the rise,” said CWT marine conservation officer Abby Crosby. “Before then, it would’ve been extremely rare to spot one around the UK.
“People often don’t realise how incredible our seas are, even in the winter months. It’s magnificent to see these amazing creatures up close. But, as always, we’d like to encourage people to put wildlife first, be respectful and keep their distance.
“It’s clear that our oceans are under immense pressure from development, pollution, fishing, climate change and recreation. All these issues are having a huge impact on our marine life, including those at the top of the chain such as our whales. That’s why encounters with these amazing animals must be on their terms and not ours.”
Humpback whales have been making a comeback around the UK since 2019, before which time sightings were extremely rare. More than 75 have been recorded by CWT since that year, usually between the months of December and March.
“I’d been watching gannets diving and was heading back to the car when I saw a splash that was way bigger than that of a gannet,” said Cornish zoology student George Deacon of the initial sighting near the Lizard. “The juvenile humpback was constantly breaching and pectoral fin-slapping for the best part of two hours!”
Humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae) grow up to 18m long, weigh up to 40 tonnes and live for 80-90 years. They are usually spotted alone or in pairs in UK waters and are considered of Least Concern on the IUCN Red List of species and a Priority Species under the UK Post-2010 Biodiversity Framework.
Data and images of such megafauna sightings are stored at the CWT’s Environmental Records Centre for Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly (ERCCIS). The trust encourages members of the public to record any marine wildlife sightings via its ORKS app or online.
Also on Divernet: Divers Free Ghost-Netted Humpback, Tech Fins Inspired By Humpback Whale, Awards For Ace Cornish Sea-Life Spotters