Minke whales filmed breaching off coast of Yorkshire in 'wonderful spectacle'

Group of whales were feeding less than half a kilometre from coast

Harry Cockburn
Monday 10 August 2020 14:11
Minke whales spotted in Yorkshire

Minke whales have been spotted off the coast of Yorkshire as the animals make their annual journey to the rich waters off the UK’s east coast to feed.

Over the weekend the enormous cetaceans were seen breaching close to the shore near the port town of Whitby and were filmed by Bex Lynam, marine advocacy officer at Yorkshire Wildlife Trust.

The video shows one of the whales gliding through the water a few hundred metres from the shore.

“We are very aware of this minke whale population,” said Ms Lynam.

“The minke whales visit the Yorkshire coast every year between roughly July and September, which is fantastic. We’re very lucky.

“We know that they come here to feed. There are big shoals of herring for example at this time of year down the coast, so the minke whales are coming here to feed on those fish.”

She added: “When we’re really lucky the whales come close in-shore. On Friday and Saturday you could see them from land because they were coming so close to the shore.

“You can see from my video that they’re probably not more than half a kilometre off the coast. It made for a wonderful wildlife spectacle.”

The largest minke whales can grow up to 10.7m for females and 9.8m for males. The species undertakes seasonal migration to and from the Arctic.

However, little is known about the population which visits Yorkshire during the summer months.

Ms Lynam said: “We know very little about this population of minke whales. We don’t know how many there are exactly, we don’t know whether it’s the same individuals here each year - in all likelihood it is, but that’s why we need to do more survey work - to understand more about this particular population and the trends we’re witnessing.

“We don’t see them much further south than Yorkshire - probably down to about Flamborough Head (just north of Bridlington). It does happen occasionally and we get sightings in Lincolnshire and beyond. Humpbacks have been seen off the Norfolk coast, but it’s not common.

“They seem to prevail in coastal waters off the Yorkshire coast, and the reason for that is very likely to be because of the Flamborough Front.”

The Flamborough Front is a nutrient-rich area close to land. Ms Lynam said the frontal system was generated by “cold water from the north meeting warm water from the south, creating an area that is hugely productive. It generates an area of upwelling which increases the primary productivity - a lot of plankton - which encourages a lot of fish, and therefore attracts bigger predators like whales, sea birds and dolphins.”

She urged anyone who spots whales around the UK to report the sighting to the Sea Watch Foundation to help build a better understanding of the animals.

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