Sunday, 26 February 2017

The Humpback of Start Bay

No doubt who the A-list superstar of the natural world has been locally these past few days. I have never seen so many people at Slapton for a wildlife event and I am old enough to remember Britains 5th ever Little Swift there in 1985, the halcyon days of twitching.  The Humpback Whale has enthralled many hundreds of people and maybe the majority have been inquisitive people from around the South Hams and beyond who would not neccesarily bother to go and look at whats around in the Natural World so that's great.  The manner in which I first saw it was slightly surreal. I was at work last Thursday afternoon and driving on the coast road from Dartmouth to Torcross when the Bluetooth told me I had a missed call. To take it safely I pulled into the memorial car park and sorted it out. I was parked by a photographer ( who turned out to be Robert Telford whose excellent photos went on the Devon Blog that night ) and like all birders could not resist a usual ' anything about ? ' question. Imagine my surprise when he said a whale had gone by earlier and greater surprise when the gentleman stood next to him called Matt then said ' there it is !'. Let me say at this point I know little about whales ( a bit more now its fair to say ) but knew a Minke had been reported the day before so thought this was probably the same. Matt had his doubts and thought maybe Humpback at one point but we were unsure ( it was a fair way off ), I definatly would not know even if it was closer. I knew a few people would be interested though and made some calls and headed back to work. As I work as a Lineman for Western Power, and as it was my day to be on stand-by for faults and as we were getting the back end of Storm Doris I could not get back out there that evening but got word that it was a Humpback Whale. I had no idea quite what a whale twitch would ensue and when I managed to go late on Friday afternoon I was amazed that there were a couple hundred people in the car park till dusk. The car park was full and leaving was like leaving a concert or football match. The evening was still, the sea calm and the Humpback showed superbly with a cast of many Porpoises and a few Dolphins.  It was magic to see all the kids looking on so enthusiastically and well done all the parents for getting them out there. Maybe a future Marine Biologists or Conservationists had the inspiration sparked into them right there. The only downside has been the awful press coverage in some quarters, all dome and gloom about the Whales health when it is perfectly healthy. The best comment on the whale I have heard was on that Thursday afternoon when somebody on seeing it said ' that's one more than I saw on The Rhode Island Whale Cruise last year '

                                       Dusk whale watching along Slapton Sands


  1. Hi Perry, thanks so much for the call. When I got there on Thurs every one still thought it was Minke! One look and we decided otherwise, a fantastic surprise. I suspect its the same animal been there since the 22nd - two whale theory (I thought it was less likely to be Minke which tend to be more in summer /autumn). The local primary school came out to see it Friday, the kids thought it was fantastic. It was just sad the event was marred by the press releasing poorly researched news, based on a local 'expert', who believes Humpback are deep water plankton feeders, lost mother, in distress etc. Its well known they will come into shallower water and feed on Mackerel and Herring. We nearly went to Southern Ireland this winter to watch the feeding Humpbacks (a regular winter event), then it happens on our own doorstep, no need to go now.

    1. Hello Mark, no problem mate. I have never bothered learning much about whales and other cetaceans you can see around here but I will make an effort now to gen up on them. I had no idea just how popular this whale would be,( or how rare Humpbacks were in the South-west ) its been a big topic locally with all and sundry. Wonderful to see everyone so enthused.