Back to Blog

A Whaley Good Week!

  • Sun 2nd Sep, 2018

Wow what a week for Whales! This is our fourth year leading seabird and whale trips with Sean Baxter and his family in Staithes on the North Yorkshire coast. The three sailings this week have been three of the best.

Minke Whale 28-08-18 Staithes © Richard BainesMinke Whale 28-08-18 Staithes © Richard Baines

Opportunities for spotting cetaceans on the Yorkshire coast have caught the eye of the press this summer. There have been increased sightings (based on previous years) in the zone between Long Nab Scarborough, Filey and Flamborough. The majority of these sightings have involved Minke Whales but there have also been lots of Harbour Porpoise and smaller numbers of White-beaked Dolphins and Bottle-nosed Dolphins. Several sightings of Humpback Whales and possible Fin Whales off Flamborough have been even more exciting.

During July the southern end of the cetacean zone was basking in fins, but the northern end between Staithes and Whitby experienced lower numbers in July than previous years. With so many people out looking from the shore combined with our boat trips from Staithes we were able to establish a pretty clear pattern of distribution throughout the month.

In August things started to change as we saw more Minke Whales from Sean’s boat in the Staithes area and a wonderful pod of White-beaked Dolphins on the 6th led by YCN guide Mark Pearson. The same pod also entertained locals watching from the shore in Saltburn. Rough weather at the end of July meant we had to cancel a few trips but by mid-August we were just about keeping up our proud tally of a Minke Whale on every boat trip whilst worrying about the seemingly lower numbers this year, no doubt linked to low numbers of Mackerel and Herring. However things were about to change dramatically as the fish stocks increased and the weather changed.

Rarely do we get a calm, predictable forecast for a whole week but the last week of August looked great! Tuesday 28th was a classic trip with our first Minke Whale in view after only 30 minutes. Our trip plan often involves searching in traditional areas between 3 and 5 miles and then 7-8 miles from shore. Remarkably we have found whales in almost exactly the same spot year after year. After spending time in a feeding area, drifting with the engine switched off, we then move to a new area to ensure we keep disturbance to a minimum.

Minke Whale 31-08-18 Staithes © Richard BainesMinke Whale 31-08-18 Staithes © Richard Baines

I decided it would be interesting to log the number of encounters based on each time we saw a whale. It’s quite often tricky to tell if we are seeing the same animal so at least this would give us an indication of how good a trip was. Seven hours later we had logged 205 encounters from approximately 26 Minke Whales! With 15-16 individuals present on the 31st and the 1st the density of whales was very high during the whole week. Drifting quietly in the boat can really pay dividends as occasionally a Minke Whale will come within a few meters to check us out. On the 31st August one of our clients was fishing for Mackerel when he saw a large shape swim beneath the boat!..

Two Minke Whales 31-08-18 Staithes © Richard BainesTwo Minke Whales 31-08-18 Staithes © Richard Baines

Lions Mane Jellyfish 31-08-18 Staithes © Richard BainesLions Mane Jellyfish 31-08-18 Staithes © Richard Baines

The sea had calmed down even more creating a beautiful silky, glass like texture. This was photography heaven and a wonderful opportunity to see Jellyfish such as the Lions Mane up close in the crystal clear water. Two Minke Whales seemed to brush each other as they rose out of the water together, an Atlantic Grey Seal popped up and gave us the beady eye and then two Northern Wheatears flew past the boat on their long migration across the North Sea. UK wildlife watching doesn’t get much better than this.

Atlantic Grey Seal 01-09-18 Staithes © Chrys MellorAtlantic Grey Seal 01-09-18 Staithes © Chrys Mellor

The northerly wind, which blew a week ago, also brought us large numbers of Manx Shearwaters something we don’t often see at this time of year. Local seawatching birders had been counting them from the cliffs the previous weekend and sure enough we found a fantastic flock of over 100 on the 28th giving us a great opportunity to photograph them against the backdrop of the North Yorkshire coastline.

Northern Wheatear 31-08-18 Staithes © Richard BainesNorthern Wheatear 31-08-18 Staithes © Richard Baines

The same hardy seawatchers had also reported a probable Humpback Whale on the 26th so we were on the lookout for anything really big. On the 31st we had a glimpse of a larger whale and then on the 1st September our boat crew led by YCN guide Jono (Jonah) Leadley thought they had got lucky as they saw several distinctive blows which would be very unusual for Minke Whale. Brief views of what looked like a larger whale were ultimately inconclusive but may have been the elusive Humpback….

Manx Shearwaters 28-08-18 Staithes © Richard BainesManx Shearwaters 28-08-18 Staithes © Richard Baines

By the end of the week the Manx Shearwater numbers had dropped but a Sooty Shearwater and several Arctic Skuas livened up the show on the 1st, hopefully signs that Skua numbers are increasing. Atlantic Puffin numbers remained fairly consistent throughout the week with between 12 and 15 birds, all juveniles apart from one adult. A daily show of diving Northern Gannets, flopping Atlantic Fulmars and bombing Bonxies kept everyone snap happy at the back of the boat as the chum was cast adrift.

Atlantic Puffin 28-08-18 Staithes © Richard BainesAtlantic Puffin 28-08-18 Staithes © Richard Baines

September is often a great time to look out for whales in our part of the North Sea as the Herring numbers reach their peak. If you’re unsure about being on a boat Minke Whales and other cetaceans can be seen from the shore, try Cowbar to the north of Staithes or Old Nab on the cliffs immediately to the south, these are great places to watch from. If you do see any please send your sightings in to Seawatch Foundation click here.

Huge thanks to all our great clients this week from Jono and I, Chrys Mellor for the Grey Seal photograph and Matt Hobbs and Ewan Wakefield who kindly shared their world knowledge of seabirds and cetaceans with everyone. There are still places left on our September trips, click here for more info.

Richard Baines YCN