December 9 2013 Latest news:
Saturday, November 2, 2013
We’ll have a whale of a time, I told my daughter as we set out on a mission to track down the celebrity that has been spotted enjoying a mini-break in our fine county, it’ll be fintastic.
Oceanic puns aren’t a problem – I dolphinately have a huge back catalogue of them – however, spotting an actual whale, I have discovered, is a different kettle of fish entirely. For such mammoth creatures, they’re inordinately difficult to spot.
Norfolk’s latest celebrity visitor has delighted nature lovers and caused a rush of visitors to the coast since it was first spotted on Tuesday morning at 7.30am. We were, it appears, slightly late to the party.
In a bid to be prepared, I had thoroughly researched humpback whales (Googled them) and discovered that (a) you shouldn’t inhale the mist from a humpback’s blowhole (b) they are the Gary Barlows of the whale world and (c) they are also the Tom Daleys of the cetacean order with their showy fluke-up and fluke-down dives.
The fluke-up dive is, apparently, the best way to identify a humpback whale although they’re also partial to a bit of pec slapping (lying on their side and slapping their fins along the top of the water), tail slapping (sitting vertically in the water while slapping their flukes against the surface) and spy hopping (standing vertically with their head out of the water).
I could get even more technical about head slaps, peduncle throws, breaches and peduncle arches, but no-one likes a show-off.
Suffice it to say, all of the above facts would have been vital, had we seen anything more than a seagull: we didn’t. The Winterton Whale – also seen at Horsey, Sea Palling and Hemsby – remained elusive.
My daughter, Ruby, 15, and I set out with good intentions, albeit wearing flimsy, inappropriate shoes.
As coastal nature watchers, we were a breed apart: Ruby despises getting sand on her feet, I hate being cold, we’re both terrified of the sea and my progeny had forgotten her hated glasses which meant she could barely see the shoreline, let alone a whale that is yet to come any closer to land than 600m.
The Norfolk whale has been seen several times since Tuesday – estimated to be around 10 to 12m in length, it was first spotted near Hemsby before moving to Winterton-on-Sea where it swam and fed in front of delighted onlookers for at least two hours.
On Wednesday, the whale took a scenic trip to Horsey, Winterton and Sea Palling, heralding its arrival with a cloud of gannets which followed it on its journey.
Crowds of whale watchers had raced to the coast in a bid to catch a glimpse of the gigantic tourist, car parks brimming with nature lovers kitted out with binoculars and telescopes, long lenses and Thermos flasks: when we visited, yesterday, there were a few dog walkers and someone trying to fly a kite.
Having spent three hours patrolling the county’s coastline, the closest we got to excitement was when I spotted something black and white on the horizon – could it be the telltale humpback fluke breaking the surface of the sea before a dive? No. It was a small boat. Another potential sighting was a buoy.
As desperation set in, I tried to persuade Ruby to put her head underwater in a bid to hear the famed song of the humpback whale which I had listened to before our trip. She asked me what whales sounded like.
“Like underwater, miserable cows,” I replied, before launching into a lecture about how the whale is the loudest creature on earth and how their songs can be heard from more than 20 miles away, much like Ruby’s stereo when the house is empty and she thinks she can get away with having the volume up to its loudest level.
Originally, scientists thought that the humpback’s song was a mating call to advertise a male’s availability to passing females, now they believe singing whales are actually issuing threats and not emulating James Blunt.
Ruby did not want to put her head in the sea to listen for the whale. Spoilsport.
Admitting defeat, we headed back to Norwich, the only trophy from our visit a car full of sand rather than a prized photograph of a humpback whale. On the plus side, the whale didn’t turn up when the BBC went looking for it, so I don’t feel too slighted. Whale meet another time, I tell myself.