Awesome Humpback

It’s Seawatch National Whale and Dolphin Watch this week, and I was keen to match, or improve upon,  my last year’s total of 96 (80 Common Dolphins and 16 Porpoises).

Two days of windless conditions were forecast so I was well fired-up for a couple of big offshore trips. Early starts, of course, early is always better.

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Veryan Bay

On the first day I paddled 22 miles round Veryan and Gerrans bay to the east of the Roseland peninsular. Normally I would have been thrilled with the forty porpoises I saw, with a lot more heard puffing but not seen, but when I practically leapt out of my kayak seat as a whale surfaced and breathed behind me, but I never actually saw it, I was a little deflated.

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Veryan Bay Porpoises

At least I had the consolation of my first Ocean Sunfish of the year…..

 

 

 

 

 

and a reluctant to be photographed Red-necked Grebe in breeding plumage.

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Red-necked Grebe

I was absolutely focused on trying to see a whale on Day 2. I haven’t yet seen one for certain this year despite two close encounters. My plan was a trip to the Eddystone but when I checked the wind forecast before I left the house (at 4.30am) Mount’s Bay looked the best bet…more or less smooth all day. So off I went to Penzance.

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Dawn Patrol at Penzance

I was on the water just after sunrise and the sea was like a pond. No wind, no chop, no swell. Absolutely perfect. Any fin or disturbance at the surface for up to half-a-mile away I was going to see. Although the best guide were the Gannets. They only have to circle round once to make me paddle over to check for porpoises, or even better, dolphins.

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Roving Gannets

First up were a couple of porpoises, a mother and a calf. Always great to see as they go about their business in an unobtrusive manner, and a speciality to see from a kayak because their loud puff can be heard from quite a distance as you slide along in complete silence. Any sort of engine noise would drown them out (so to speak).

 

 

 

 

 

Fantastic….. there were slightly bigger fins ahead. A little pod of Common Dolphins, including a couple of youngsters. Then a couple more small groups of about half-a-dozen.My Seawatch survey was gathering pace.

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Common Dolphins in front of Mousehole

I kept two to three miles offshore after Mousehole as I was hoping for the big stuff, and sea conditions were exceptionally relaxing. It was still and sunny and I was beginning to regret wearing wetsuit trousers….humidity overload!

Just after Lamorna the sea was suddenly boiling with life. The surface was stippled with shoals of little fish which covered areas the size of tennis courts, all over the place. I found myself in the middle of several compact shoals and I could see through the crystal clear water that they looked like sandeels.

Manx Shearwaters hunted the eels by diving from the surface, and some little posses loafed about at the surface doing a bit of preening.

 

 

 

 

 

Just listening was extraordinary. There was the puff of porpoises everywhere, the thoomph of diving Gannets, and the splash of shearwaters. Then an almighty, powerful slashing, splash right in front of me that can only have been a Giant Tuna, although I never saw the fish. It must have been way bigger than a Common Dolphin. Blooming heck.

I was drifting past Tater Du lighthouse, two miles offshore. I knew that it was a very big Spring tide today and the current was up to two miles per hour dragging down towards Land’s End. I already had an eight mile paddle back to Penzance, and with my cruising speed of three miles per hour, it could be a long paddle back. Especially after yesterday’s twenty plus miles.

Any sort of wind would have chopped the surface up significantly and I would have turned back, and I would have missed what was coming next. It was however completely still….the perfect un-storm.

Then I heard what sounded like an extended breath, but far far away. Could have been a prolonged tuna splash, but I hoped it was a whales breath. I sat and had a cup of coffee and a think about what to do, and listened. There it was again. Then nothing more. I turned to head back to Penzance but just couldn’t drag myself away. I was just about to start paddling when I heard the breathy noise again, and then another in a different place. So can’t have been a whale…..unless there were two!

Total excitement overload, I couldn’t resist it. I was off in pursuit.

Half-a-mile ahead a great grey bulk emerged from the water and disappeared in a huge splash. What?!? Must have been a lunge-feeding Minke Whale…wow.

I powered on and I saw a whale’s blow! So no Minke because they don’t show a blow, so even more amazing.

By coincidence Duncan and Hannah Jones from Marine Discovery had just arrived in Shearwater II to watch the action, having also seen the whale’s splashes from afar.

I stopped and waited and the whale came a bit closer. This is my first decent sight and it is heading directly towards me. You can hear my shaky excitement breath…must get my heart checked out some time.

 

 

 

 

 

It was a blinking Humpback!

Then the REAL excitement started. It lunged at a patch of sandeels close by and I started the video. As I waited for it to surface a dark patch of sandeels came steadily closer , which was a bit (in retrospect, VERY) worrying. I could clearly see two large patches of sandeels at the surface, and I was sitting right in the middle of one of them.I knew the whale was about to engulf one of the shoals so when the sandeels started to leap out of the water all around me I peered down into the water to see if the whale was on the way up! You can see in the video I hang a leg over the side o the kayak to provide a bit more stability in case of a tidal wave, (and hear me catch my breath). Unfortunately the whale chose the other shoal.

 

 

 

 

 

How can this be happening just off the coast of Cornwall? I would have pinched myself if there had been a gap in the action.

Next up it lunged directly towards me.

 

 

 

 

 

Unbelievably a Minke Whale then appeared on the scene, right beside Shearwater II. My closest and best ever view of a Minke, and what I was really hoping to see today, but it was a sideshow compared to the Humpback. At one stage they both surfaced together in the same eyeball-bite.

Minke whale
Minke Whale

 

 

 

 

 

It was then time for a bit of fin-slapping. Yes, that white thing is the Humpback’s pectoral fin.

 

 

 

 

 

Next a pod of about ten Common Dolphins appeared on the scene and shadowed the whale in search of an easy bite. The whale played up to the crowd.

 

 

 

 

 

The last time I saw a Humpback (a couple of years ago in South Devon) I was a bit disappointed not to capture the classic image of the tail flukes coming up when the whale does a deep dive. That was corrected today…big time:

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Flukes in front of Porthcurno
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Humpback flukes and Porthcurno

and how convenient, it dived with legendary St. Michael’s Mount as a backdrop.

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Humpback in front of St. Michael’s Mount

I was getting a bit twitchy as I had now drifted as far as Porthcurno, and the current was only going to get stronger in the build-up to Gwennap Head. Four hour paddle back, hope they havn’t run out of Raspberry Flake McFlurries at MacDonalds.

So the humpback put on its final display, Common Dolphins as a support act.

 

 

 

 

 

Lots of superlatives today. Not least that I saw four species of cetacean within half an hour (Humpback, Minke, Common Dolphin, Porpoise). Last year it was only three species. And a Giant Bluefin Tuna leapt clean out of the water right in front of me as I was just starting to paddle back.

And today’s total was 1 Humpback, 1 Minke, 36 Common Dolphins, 25 porpoise bringing my week’s total and contribution to National whale and dolphin watch to 105 individual cetaceans.

Phew. Wow, Blinking Heck.

blow
Blow

flipper 2

flipper 3

gulp 1

gulp 3

gulp 4

gulp 6

gulp 8

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Oh, I forgot about the other stuff like scenery……P1350361

34 thoughts on “Awesome Humpback

  1. Reblogged this on Cymraes' Corner and commented:
    Amazing – truly an amazing experience! I so enjoyed the photos and videos – the climate change crisis has us all twitching but when something like this happens its magical! Truly magical and part of me now wants to pack up and head ‘doon sooth’ as fast as I can!

  2. What a day or two days you hav e had. I can only imagine your excitement . Do you think they were showing off specially for you or do they keep on jumping up all th;time.? I am using my newipad and not very good with it yet…………….”. Love Great Granny Sue xxxxxx

    Sent from my iPad

    >

    1. I’d like to think it was just for me, Granny Sue. But in actual fact it is to eat as many sandeels in each mouthful as possible. They ‘herd’ them from below, ‘pin’ them against the surface and wooomph, they are engulfed.

  3. Wow I live in St Ives and am just planning a trip to California to watch whales. Think I need to just hire a boat and drive down the road. How amazing lucky you

  4. Fantastic footage Rupert, I’ve been enjoying your posts for a few years now but this surely has to be your best footage so far. The BBC seem to think so too. Good on ya fella. JP

  5. Thank you so much for sharing! How blessed we are to live in such close proximity to this abundance of magnificent sea creatures.

  6. Fabulous captures Rupert, it’s a true treat to see this and to experience this in real time must have been amazing! 😀🐳🐬

  7. Absolutely amazing!! They are phenomenal! We saw humpback whales on a trip to Australia out of Hervey Bay on the east coast and were very lucky to see several of them together!

  8. Hi Rupert,

    Incredible photos and footage. We’d love to feature a couple of the photos on Country Living’s website tomorrow, with a link back to your site. Would that be okay?

    Thanks,
    Natalie

    1. Hi Natalie, yes you are welcome to use any photos and yes, please give my blog a plug. Hope your viewers enjoy them. Rupert

  9. Awesome sightings! I’m one of the crew of Irene of Bridgwater, the sailing ship in your last picture. I saw the BBC report about the humpback, but didn’t spot it from onboard. We’d had around 50 or so common dolphins since sunrise as we approached the Lizard and crossed Mount’s Bay, several porpoises closer in, a couple of sunfish, and big flocks of Manx Shearwaters and gannets feeding. It was a stunning morning to be out, and I’m so jealous of your whale encounter.

    1. Hello Vicky. Yes, the Irene provided the perfect serene image to round off a hectic (but thrilling) day. Sounds like you had a great wildlife spotting day too. Humpback next time, maybe.

  10. Incredible footage Rupert. Presumably you can hang up your paddle now. I’ve been following your blog with interest over the last couple of years. When we get our ‘breach’ up here off the Hartland coast (!) I want to be ready to capture it. Can I ask what camera you use – ie quality image with a long zoom whilst suitable for taking out on the kayak. Thanks, Rupert

    1. Hello, fellow Rupert, yes I was blooming lucky to see that whale. And no, I am not hanging up my paddle……who’s going to see the first Great White Shark?. My camera is a panasonic lumix fz2000 bridge camera. One of the best bridge cameras with a really good zoom, good image quality and really good video. Much more versatile, in my opinion, than an SLR with interchangeable lens that is too expensive, and too heavy, to take on a kayak. But it is NOT waterproof at all so I keep it in a dry bag until I approach the action, then sit it on my lap and hope it doesn’t get wet! Simplistic, but that’s me. regards Rupert

  11. Hello Rupert! What wonderful footage. I’m a researcher at Tern Television in Glasgow and I’m currently working on the 2019 episode of ‘Britain’s Wildest Weather’ for Channel 4. I was hoping to speak to you about potentially using your footage in this year’s programme. It would be great to speak with you. My number, if you want to get in contact, is 0141 483 3986 or you can drop me a line at aneesah.hussain@terntv.com. All the best, Aneesah.

  12. Just WOWWWWWW!!! Awesome!

    It’s so fustrating …. my laptop doesn’t seem to be able to play some of the slomo clips. Still , what I can view is amazing!

    Thanks for sharing this; at least we get a small taste of the wonder and thrill and nearly experience it for ourselves.

    That’ going to be hard to beat.

    Sending love to everyone.

    Krysia ??????

    ________________________________

  13. Oh my!!! What a fantastic summer you are having. What a truly unforgettable experience. I am so glad you were out there in your kayak so that you could share this with us all. I started kayaking a few years ago and love it, nothing like the level you are at. I found a bit of scrupled up paper in the street and the headline read “humpback seen off uk coast”. So when I got home looked it up and it lead me to your great blog! I’m a fan, and a new follower. I hope your Summer continues to warm your soul 😀

  14. Hi Rupert, It’s great to see this post and others, and to read about your passion for kayaking with UK wildlife, which unfortunately I’ve neglected during my 40 years of sea kayaking abroad. I’m an award-winning photographer from Torbay and became known as the Whaleman after kayaking with bubblenet feeding humpback whales in Southeast Alaska for 20 years and then subsequently teaching for the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society in SW England. I was on the cover of the BBC Wildlife Magazine back in 2002 paddling with the whales after one of my humpback lunge feeding photos won the mammal category in the BBC Wildlife Photographer of the Year Competition. I’m happy for you that you experienced that same rush of a lunging humpback whale that I became so addicted to in my kayak in Alaska for so many years. My latest passion is whale sharks and manta rays and have been swimming with them in Palawan for over ten years now. I’m currently on my way to my next big kayaking/snorkelling adventure in Komodo National Park where I’m hoping for some more great manta ray encounters. Maybe we can meet when I’m back in the UK this winter – still based in Torbay. I keep one of my kayaks there – a Feathercraft Kahuna folding kayak. I’d love to hear more about your UK encounters. I only recently heard that bluefin tuna are showing up off Falmouth. You can view my life and work (and many photos of close encounters with bubblenet feeding whales) at http://www.duncanmurrell.com and http://www.whale-of-a-time.blog.com but I’m way behind updating them with my latest adventures and photos. Keep up the good work informing others about UK marine life and keep on paddlin’!!!
    Cheers,
    Duncan Murrell aka “the Whaleman”

  15. Correction to my blog URL: http://www.whale-of-a-time-blog.com. Not much sleep on the airport floor last night!
    I’m looking at this post again and it’s so awesome to see this amazing encounter “back home”. It brings back so many great memories for me in Alaska. It means that I don’t need to worry about retiring from overseas kayaking adventures : ) Keep up the good work.
    Duncan

    1. Hi Duncan, hope you manage to catch up with lost sleep. Yes I know your legendary Humpback feeding photo well. I hope you have success with the Manta rays. I am going to be forced to paddle up the creeks of SW England over the next couple of weeks because the weather looks so bad, so no more whales again for a while. Please get in touch when you are back in Torbay. Rupert

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