The weekend’s wildlife highlights were; Minke whale, many Common Dolphin and 20++ Harbour Porpoise mostly feeding a mile or so offshore with an attendant “frenzy” of seabirds! Oddly this frenzy is mostly Shearwaters – over 2000 Manx, up to 100 Great (counted from Gwennap Head), c.200 Cory’s , 50++ Sooty, and increasing numbers of Balearic Shearwaters – 5 from our Minack trip on Sunday evening. There are relatively few Gannets associating with this frenzy which implies the birds are feeding on small prey such as sand-eel or fry, fine for the Minke Whales but unusual for dolphins. A few presumed Blue-fin Tuna have been feeding in the same area and, although still not numerous, Ocean Sunfish are increasing again with 4 on Sunday.
What an incredible sight here in Cornish waters. A bowhead whale! These beautiful whales are usually found in Arctic or sub-Arctic waters, so you can imagine how dumbfounded we were to see one off Long Rock Beach! We watched in wonderment as this graceful creature surfaced and dived right in front of us, too stunned to even reach for the camera. As it started to move southwards, blowing as it went, we eventually regained our wits and tried to capture the moment. Unfortunately the photos aren’t great and most definitely do not do the moment justice, but they do prove that you never know what you might see here in Cornwall. The marine environment is changing every year and it is more than evident in the variety of species we are seeing here now.
A few facts on the Bowhead whale and why this sighting is so special:-
The bowhead whale got its name from its bow-shaped skull. It’s body is black with a whitish chin patch broken by what resembles a necklace of black spots. The bowhead is also identified by its lack of dorsal fin and two bumps which are usually visible above the water corresponding to the head and the back. The whale produces a V shaped blow from paired blowholes situated at the highest point of the head, often reaching 7m in height. We did see a few fantastic blows in the bay. The bowheads baleen is the longest of any whale at over 3m and is used to strain tiny prey from the water. The whale’s blubber is the thickest of any animal!
Image From SuperCentenarian.com
The reason for the thickness of the blubber is due to it’s natural habitat of Arctic waters. They are often found close to the edge of the Arctic ice shelf. Now we all complain of the cold in Cornwall, but the waters are definitely not Arctic! Their bow shaped head is used to break through ice up to 60cm thick. Now that’s some ice! Bowheads migrate north and south of the Arctic as the ice retreats and expands. The whales prefer bays, straits and estuaries, and are seldom found far from ice floes. That is why this was truly was a spectacular sight.