Rare winter visitors: humpback whales reported and rescued this winter
Sightings submitted over the winter can often tell us a great deal about animal behaviour and seasonal movements. So when rare or unusual sightings are reported to us, such as recent reports of humpback whales, it can be cause for much discussion and speculation.
This winter humpback whales have been reported throughout December and January starting with 1 in Lochbroom, near Ullapool, on December 15th 2015; 2 animals at Burray, Orkney, on the 31st of December; 2 in the Sound of Raasay on 8th January (which hung around for a few days); and the whale which was rescued from creel ropes in Loch Eriboll on the North Coast on the 9th of January. It seems there are a few around! We also had similar reports last winter such as for the humpback in the Sound of Raasay in November 2014 (pictured above).
Humpback whales are known to migrate into UK waters during the summer in order to feed, leaving again as winter approaches in favour of warmer waters to the south to breed. So why are some humpbacks still hanging around so late into the year?
These 'over wintering' animals or late migrators tend to have a more coastal distribution in UK waters during the winter months, making them easier to spot, mainly feeding on herring and sprat. It is a pattern seen in Iceland and Norway as well as Scotland. It is possible that these individuals are not breeding and so making the long migration south is not as appealing as staying in Scottish waters.