WATCH: Rare deep-water whale filmed off Northumberland coast

A northern bottlenose whale, showing its bulbous forehead and beak. Picture by S Hooker/Sea Watch Foundation
A northern bottlenose whale, showing its bulbous forehead and beak. Picture by S Hooker/Sea Watch Foundation

A deep-water whale species, which is rarely seen in the North Sea, has been filmed by a fisherman close to the shore at Beadnell.

The report came through to Sea Watch Foundation, the national whale and dolphin monitoring unit, last Friday after the observer, Trevor Walker, became aware of the charity. Immediately, the staff and volunteers at the research organisation realised that Trevor had correctly identified the northern bottlenose whale from its ID guides after he sent in a video of it just metres from his boat.

Trevor is a regular pleasure fisherman and frequently encounters dolphins on his jaunts. However, he grabbed the GoPro mounted on his boat when he and his sons, Liam and Brendan, caught a glimpse of this unusual looking whale back in June.

"It was steaming away quite unperturbed by us," Trevor said. "We could have followed it, but we just filmed it and moved on so as not to disturb it."

Northern bottlenose whales have a bulbous forehead with a protruding beak, like an exaggerated version of their namesakes, the bottlenose dolphins. They have a broad-based triangular dorsal fin located about two-thirds of the way along their backs. These leviathans can be up to 10 metres long and Trevor estimated that this individual was seven to eight metres in length, which might point to it being a female of the species.

Usually found in deep ocean trenches of the North Atlantic, these whales typically occur in the Barents Sea, around Iceland and north-west of Norway, but not usually in the relatively shallow waters of the North Sea. Another and unusual famous visit from this species occurred 11 years ago when the Thames Whale sadly stranded up the London river opposite the Houses of Parliament before having to be euthanised by veterinarians.

The whales do not look dissimilar from dolphins, but are considerably larger. Picture by S Hooker/Sea Watch Foundation

The whales do not look dissimilar from dolphins, but are considerably larger. Picture by S Hooker/Sea Watch Foundation

Overall, Sea Watch Foundation holds 222 records of this beaked-whale species, spanning as far back as 1966 and as widely distributed as Shetland and the Rockall Bank (far west of the Outer Hebrides) to the Bay of Biscay off northern Spain. The records in waters directly around the British Isles have occurred almost exclusively away from the east coast with the exception of this 2017 record, the Thames Whale and four other sightings which occurred in the last decade - two of which were strandings in shallow waters - making this latest video even more remarkable.

Kathy James, sightings officer for Sea Watch Foundation, said: "I was thrilled to see such a clear video that enabled us to confirm the reported species and it's just amazing to see this relatively unknown creature of the deep with one of our towns in the background. The UK really does have waters that are incredibly rich for cetaceans ( whales, dolphins and porpoises) and reporting sightings to Sea Watch is a really important way to document them for their research and protection."

If people are interested to take part in monitoring cetaceans for themselves, they are urged to visit the Sea Watch Foundation website to report their sightings or become a volunteer.