Pictures show rare encounter with Scotland's newest humpback whale

The never been seen before whale was spotted by Hebrides Cruises

The newest member of Scotland’s humpback whales known to venture near the coastline has been spotted.

Hebrides Cruises, the leading operator of small ship wildlife cruises around the Hebrides, shared photos showing the sighting of two humpback whales, including one never seen before in Scottish waters.

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On a cruise which was sailing towards Gunna Sound, the Inner Hebrides, on Tuesday, guests and crew aboard Hebrides Cruises vessel, Elizabeth G, spotted the marine mammals within several hundred metres of the boat.

The newest member of humpback whales known to visit Scottish waters The newest member of humpback whales known to visit Scottish waters
The newest member of humpback whales known to visit Scottish waters | Hannah Lightley, a wildlife guide for Hebrides Cruises

Hannah Lightley, a wildlife guide for Hebrides Cruises, said a guest onboard had initially spotted a “big blow” in the distance.

Hannah Lightley

“There were lots of squeals and excitement onboard as I then confirmed this as a humpback whale,” she said.

“We then observed the animal surfacing several hundred metres in front of Elizabeth G with multiple tail flukes.”

Barrett, who has been spotted in Scottish waters before Barrett, who has been spotted in Scottish waters before
Barrett, who has been spotted in Scottish waters before | Hannah Lightley, Hebrides Cruises Wildlife Guide

At the same time, the skipper, Alasdair Sinclair, spotted another humpback whale about one kilometre away in the opposite direction.

“So we then headed towards this animal where it was tail slapping multiple times,” Ms Lightley added.

“We were 13 miles Northwest of Gunna Sound in around 140m of water. Once closer, we switched the engines to neutral and that’s when we had the most incredible encounter of the humpback associating with the boat and eventually surfacing just metres from the bow and then swimming under the boat."

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Hannah Lightley

Photos of the new sighting were then sent to Lyndsay McNeill at Scottish Humpback ID, who manages the Scottish Humpback Whale catalogue.

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The first humpback encountered was confirmed as 'Barrett' number 100 in the catalogue. The second whale, however, was confirmed as new to Scottish waters and has subsequently been named 'Sinclair' after Mr Sinclair.

Ms McNeill said: “Although rare, humpback whales are now being sighted with increasing regularity in Scottish waters.  We’ve seen around 10 new individuals a year as well as a few familiar tails back in the same areas.  Many of our matches from the Hebrides have been from Iceland.

“Every tail fluke is as unique as a human fingerprint and is used to identify the different whales. Photographs are used in a technique called ‘Photo-ID’ - when a whale is identified in a specific location, we can look and see where else that whale has been photographed and build a better picture of their movements.”

Humpbacks are known to migrate through Scottish waters between their feeding and breeding grounds.

Hannah Lightley, Hebrides Cruises Wildlife Guide

Ms McNeill said a lot of the data on these majestic mammals comes from members of the public or ‘citizen scientists’ reporting what they’ve spotted and using a technique called Photo-ID to identify whales which helps build a better understanding of their movements and behaviour.

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