Despite being amongst the biggest mammals on Earth, it’s not always easy to spot whales- but when you do, you’ll never forget it.
A Whale Of A Time
By Alf Anderson
You don’t necessarily need to venture to exotic coastal locations to see these magnificent creatures – the somewhat chilly waters surrounding the UK are home to a wide range of whale species, in particular minke, humpback, fin and sei whales (depending on where you happen to be) and occasionally even orcas and sperm whales.
At the same time as you’re whale watching, you may also encounter dolphins, porpoise, seals and a huge variety of seabirds, including puffins, fulmars, kittiwakes and shearwaters.
The best way to get up close to whales is obviously in a boat, although eagle-eyed walkers hiking along the coastal paths in areas such as Cornwall and Devon may occasionally catch a glimpse of a whale surfacing, particularly if they’re carrying binoculars, and intrepid kayakers have also been known to be surprised by these gentle giants swimming past their craft.
Whales live in waters all around the UK, but there are certain areas where you’re more likely to see them; these include the Yorkshire coast, the Northumberland coast, the Inner and Outer Hebrides, Orkney and the Southwest Peninsula.
Another good whale watching spot is Pembrokeshire, and we asked Ffion Rees of Falcon Boats in St. David’s (www.falconboats.co.uk) for a few tips on how best to spot these gentle giants of the ocean.
“In the UK, the best time of year to see whales, and other cetaceans such as dolphins and porpoise, is generally from May to the end of September, both in terms of likelihood of actually seeing animals and also having suitable weather to do so,” she advises.
“Whale watching trips will often involve spending a little longer at sea than on a sightseeing boat ride in order to have the best possible chance of seeing a few animals, so it’s always advisable to wear plenty of warm layers with a wind- and waterproof jacket being a must – in fact it’s not a bad idea to bring full waterproofs because, even if it doesn’t rain, you may have waves crashing over the side of the boat, especially if you’re in a small RIB-type vessel.
It’s also well worth taking binoculars for a better view, as there’s no guarantee you’ll get very close to any whales you do spot,” adds Ffion.
She points out that patience is a blessing for whale watchers, as even in areas where cetaceans are seen regularly, they’re not necessarily predictable and it will often depend if there are fish or plankton around as to whether or not you’ll see them - feeding seabirds are a good giveaway as to where you might spot whales (a good tip for coast path walkers) as they often feed alongside the birds, which take advantage of the fact that cetaceans often drive fish closer to the surface, making easy pickings for their avian colleagues.
“A couple of years ago we saw a humpback, but it was a first for Pembrokeshire, and very occasionally orca, or killer whales, are spotted. Larger species will often announce their presence with their ‘blow', which can be seen from a distance, but that’s not the case with minke whales, which have a small blow that isn’t easily seen.
Some species may show an interest in your boat and minke whales will sometimes be curious and swim alongside if the skipper switches off the engine and just sits and waits; other species such as fin and sei are not generally interested but will sometimes tolerate the presence of boats, whilst pilot whales, orca and dolphins will often interact with boats and commonly bow ride, which is a marvellous sight”.
Why not head to the coast and book a whale-watching trip – who knows what you might see?