A RARE humpback whale has been spotted in the Firth of Forth in the latest of a series of sightings which have attracted extra visitors to the coast.
The sighting of the whale - said by wildlife experts to be more unusual "than seeing a lion walk down Princes Street" - was the third of a rare species of whale in the estuary in a month.
Dog walker Michael Allen sparked a rescue operation when he spotted the giant mammal thrashing about in shallow waters around a quarter of a mile off Belhaven Bay, near Dunbar.
He alerted staff at the nearby Scottish Seabird Centre in North Berwick and members of the British Divers Marine Life Rescue team, but by the time they reached the beach, the whale had managed to free itself and swim off.
The sighting of the humpback follows that of a fin whale, the world's second largest creature, near North Berwick last month. That was followed by reports of an unidentified large whale off the coast at Dunbar last week.
The sightings are attracting extra visitors to North Berwick and the Seabird Centre in the hope of catching a glimpse of a whale.
The summer's warm weather is said to be attracting creatures such as sand eels to the Firth of Forth and whales are following to feed.
Wildlife experts said spotting a humpback whale in the Forth was extremely unusual. Only one other sighting has been reported in recent years.
Linda Dalgleish, marketing manager of the Scottish Seabird Centre, said: "We often see minke whales in the Forth, but this is the first year in a long time that we have seen creatures like the fin whale or the Humpback. It is very exciting that these creatures are coming to the Forth.
"There is very little doubt that it was a humpback whale. They are very easy to identify because of their long, white flippers.
"The last time we saw a humpback in the Forth was about three years ago - but that was the first anyone could remember in a long time. I was told by a whale expert that you are more likely to see a lion walking down Princes Street than to see a humpback whale in the Forth.
"We have had a lot of inquiries at the centre from people who have come hoping to see one of the rarer whales. It is fantastic people are taking such an interest."
The rescue operation on Tuesday involved a dozen volunteers with more on stand-by.
Sue White, who monitors whale sightings for the British Divers Marine Life Rescue, said: "The whale may have been there feeding and come in a little too close to the shore for its size. There has been a lot of whale activity in the area this year, which must be because there is a lot of food stocks in the Forth at the moment."
The Seawatch Foundation is about to carry out a week-long survey of whales and dolphins in a bid to get a clearer picture of the animals' movements.
A spokesman said: "It has been a very good time for seeing whales. Our scientists believe there could be a link with the warm weather and the increase in sand eels, which whales feed off in these areas, which is leading to areas they wouldn't usually go to."
Whale watchers can join experts at the Scottish Seabird Centre as part of National Whale and Dolphin Watch, which starts on Saturday.