With the recent sightings of humpback whales in Aberdeen harbour and off Bangor, Co. Down being reported in the news it got me thinking about an afternoon back in January this year.
Monday 24th January was a cold, crisp winters afternoon and the weather was clear, calm and bright, almost perfect for seawatching so I decided to head round to the seafront at Montrose to see what was about.
I had a quick scan with my binoculars and seeing a couple of black blobs not too far offshore, I trained my telescope to see one of them had a large yellow knob on the bill, identifying them as common scoter. A little further out there was a red-throated diver, which as the name suggests, frustratingly never spends too long on the surface, disappearing after only a few seconds, only to reappear often just at the edge of view. Scanning south to Scurdiness lighthouse, there were a couple of gulls off the point, but nothing out of the ordinary.
Slowly moving back my up the Bay I saw a cormorant, a few more gulls and a couple of eider bobbing around, however, as my view got to the northern end of the Bay I saw literally thousands and thousands of gulls flying round on the water in a tightly packed group.
Huge numbers of gulls behaving in such a way are often a sign of cetacean activity beneath the surface and I had heard of two recent sightings of humpback whales being seen from Montrose beach by reliable sources, had I struck it lucky? Could it possibly be?!
Suddenly there was a flash of grey, but only a split second view, enough to confirm that there was something out there, but not enough to allow me to tell what it was. Then a couple of seconds later a much better view…..WHALE!!!!
As the animal came out of the water, there was only a very shallow breach with a tiny dorsal fin about two thirds or three quarters of the way along it’s back.
I had never seen a whale before so I phoned Hugh, my friend who had seen minke whales many times off Montrose and while he was working off-shore, and asked him to come down to see it.
Thankfully the animal hung around, allowing Hugh enough time to make it down and get some good views. He was pretty sure it wasn’t a minke, but we weren’t sure, so using the wonder of modern technology we got onto the website of the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group (IWDG) and the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society (WDCS) to use their species profiles to try and confirm what we were seeing.
After some cracking views of the whale as it was moving out from shore we finally decided that what we had seen was matching descriptions of humpbacks according to the websites, and in our minds there was nothing else it could be. My first ever humpback whale!
Although at times it appeared there were two, possibly three areas of activity, we never actually saw more than one whale. This apparent isolation, along with the size (in comparison to the gulls) suggested to us that it was a lone adult, but as I say there my have been more than one whale, it’s just we didn’t notice any others.
At about 4.45pm, it was getting too dark and we had been watching the whale for over an hour. The last that we saw the whale appeared to be moving away from shore and further along the coast in a southerly direction.
A fantastic wildlife experience and my first ever whale….absolutely superb.
Adam – Montrose Basin Ranger