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Strangford sighting for humpback whale

A humpback whale has been spotted in Northern Irish waters for the third consecutive year. It is only the fourth ever validated humpback sighting in Northern Irish waters and happened at Strangford Narrows in Co Down.

Whale experts are asking anyone who spots the whale again to try and take pictures and forward the images to them so that they can try to identify it.

The Irish Whale and Dolphin Group (IWDG) have been keeping track of whale sightings in Northern Irish waters. The latest sighting is only 25 miles away from the last sighting in Bangor on June 14, 2011 and on the 11th July 2010, a single humpback was recorded off Rathlin Island.

Padraig Whooley, IWDG sightings co-ordinator said that there has been an increase in sightings of this large baleen whale species in Irish waters.

“As recently as the 1960s it was thought by whale biologists that humpbacks were on the verge of extinction in the North Atlantic, as a result of over-exploitation by whaling nations,” he said.

“So this is indeed part of a larger positive conservation story as humpback whales have been protected now for several decades, and it seems likely that their numbers are on the increase.”

This sighting was unusual due to the almost land-locked location.

“The recorders, Peter Elliot and Neil Hastie, who observed and filmed it at around 4pm, are confident that it was feeding on herring at the time.

“Although the initial report left some doubt as to its species, the brief video clip sent to IWDG on April 15 leaves no doubt as to its species,” he said.

“While this humpback whale may still be in the area, IWDG would request any members of the public fortunate enough to spot this animal and secure any images to forward them and indeed their sightings to IWDG, so we can attempt to match the tail-flukes with the other 20 humpbacks currently on the Irish humpback whale catalogue on www.iwdg.ie.

“It would be important for us to establish whether this is the same animal photographed off Bangor in June 2011.

“This is often the case off the south coast where IWDG have documented inter-annual re-sightings of the same individuals over several years.

“Ideally, we’d ask people to try to wait for it to lift its tail-fluke out of the water, and photograph the unique pattern on the ventral (under) surface of the tail.

“Any fluke shots will be forwarded to the curators of the North Atlantic Humpback Whale catalogue in Maine, USA ,for matching against a database of over 7,000 recognisable humpback whales in the North Atlantic,” said Mr Whooley.

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