Humpback Whale sightings up in Cornwall

Still of Humpback Whale
Humpback Whale Credit: Gillian Day

Cornwall Wildlife Trust says a new report on marine life shows there have been positive changes for some species this year.

The Wildlife Trusts’ 2021 marine review revealed strong numbers of humpback whales were spotted around the UK, including Cornwall.

Until recently sightings were extremely rare, but more than 75 sightings have been recorded since 2019, suggesting populations are recovering after bans on commercial whaling.

The Isles of Scilly Wildlife Trust saw humpbacks feeding around the islands, with one named Pi staying for over two months. More were seen in the Firth of Forth and off Shetland.

Humpback Whale feeding Credit: Gillian Day

Matt Slater, Marine Conservation Officer for Cornwall Wildlife Trusts, says: “Only a few years ago it would have been extremely rare to see a humpback whale around the UK - but it looks like they are chasing big shoals of sardines that are now present around our shores. It is magnificent to see these creatures up close.”

Orca Whale seen near Porthcurno, Cornwall Credit: Will McEnery

Two Orca Whales were photographed near to the Minack Theatre at Porthcurno in Cornwall.

The orcas, named John Coe and Aquarius, normally live off the Hebrides but were spotted from the cliff-top theatre.

Cornwall Wildlife Trust say it was the most southerly sighting of members of this unique group of killer whales in over 50 years. Nine days later they were seen back in the Hebrides, and a fortnight after that, off the coast of Dover in Kent.

Ruth Williams, Marine Conservation Manager for Cornwall Wildlife Trust, says: “This was the first confirmed record of orca in our database in over a decade. It shows the importance of monitoring wildlife to help protect species against a tide of human pressure.”

Stranded dolphin Credit: Cornwall Wildlife Trust

The charity says that there is also evidence of human interference and climate change threatening some species.

According to the review, in Cornwall over 170 cetaceans (whales, dolphins, and porpoises) and 247 seals were stranded this year, with some injured by fishing activities.

A humpback whale was found stranded off Looe Island after being caught in fishing lines, while seven grey seals washed up on Mousehole beach within two days, linked with spider crab netting.

Devon Wildlife Trust reported 51 cetaceans stranded on beaches.

'Wally' the Walrus Credit: Nathaniel Barry

Perhaps the most memorable marine sighting of 2021 was an arctic walrus nicknamed 'Wally' who captured the nation’s hearts as his progress was tracked around the UK. 

Wally was spotted off Cornwall and on the Isles of Scilly this summer. The Isles of Scilly Wildlife Trust made a pontoon so he could rest. A second walrus was seen off Northumberland and around the Shetland Isles.

Wildlife Photographer Nathaniel Barry was the first to photo Wally when he appeared in Cornwall.

He said: "It was so unnatural for him to be this far down, and then when I heard he was in France and Spain it just seemed so worrying for him. Now all I've heard is good news - that he's been in Iceland, and hopefully further north now.''

'Wally' the Walrus Credit: Nathaniel Barry

The Wildlife Trusts are jointly working to restore the UK’s marine habitats and are calling for at least 30% of our seas to be protected by 2030. This includes creating Highly Protected Marine Areas, better planning for development at sea, and an increase in monitoring marine life. Read more:

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