The Whitby Whale … How We Had A Close Encounter!

The Whitby Whale

If you’re a regular to our Facebook page, you’ll have seen our fascination with cetacean. That’s the official word for whales and dolphins (and other creatures of a similar ilk).
While we’ve been fortunate enough to spot dolphins swimming gracefully near our shoreline on several occasions, we had a more sombre experience recently with a sighting of a deceased minke whale.

A Rare ‘Tail’

This is a rare event … and it coincided with the global story of the mass beaching of numerous pilot whales in Tasmania.
This tragic event caught the world’s imagination … and stirred our hearts at their plight.
What makes these intelligent, awe-inspiring creatures beach themselves like the event ‘down under’ is still a mystery and evades our understanding.
The minke whale that sadly died near Whitby was brought ashore to by a local building firm and the poor creature was placed in Upgang Ravine so it could undergo a post-mortem.
This also prevented it being struck by fishing vessels.
Our son, Zak, along with his friend Harry, took a tentative look at this beautiful mammal which began to decompose. We found it so sad to see.
However, the event did make us wonder at the lives of these amazing creatures.
We did our own little ‘minke whale’ project and got to know this welcome visitor a little bit better.

The Minke Whale

The minke whale is the smallest of all baleen whales and can grow up to nine metres long.
They have sleek, dark bodies of differing brown, black and grey tones with long snouts.
Minke’s also have two blowholes and have white armbands on their flippers.
The minke also has between 50 and 70 expandable pleats that run from their throats to their flippers.
The pleats have the ability to take in huge quantities of water and fish, which are then sieved through baleen plates.
These hang down from the minke’s upper jaw. The whale can then take in the food they require.
Amazing!
While many whales live alongside others in pods, minkes can live a solitary life. The unfortunate minke that eventually made its way to Whitby did appear to be on its own.
This sad event isn’t the only connection Whitby has to the whale world.

The Whitby Whaling Industry

One of the town’s landmarks, the whalebone arch, is made up of the gigantic jaw bones of a whale.
Understandably today, the landmark gives out mixed messages.
Back in the 1750s, the Whitby Whaling Company was formed providing employment for the town, and the boats involved set off for remote Greenland.
Up until the early 1830s, around 55 whaling ships operated from Whitby Harbour.
Whaling was a hazardous occupation involving huge seas, crushing ice floes and extreme cold.
The whaling industry involved bringing the catch back to Whitby’s shores and making the blubber into oil.
The connection with the jaw bones is with the tradition of attaching a jawbone to the ship’s mast, indicating the vessel had made a successful voyage.
Whitby’s whaling industry came to an end in 1837 and is a chapter of our town’s past which will always divide opinion.
One of our local business, Whitby Whale Watching started running boat trips in 2006 and now several operators offer this incredible experience. One such company is Yorkshire Coast Nature which operates from Staithes.

Whale Spotting from Whitby

As well as minkes, humpbacks have been spotted along with bottlenose dolphins, which seem to have taken aquatic residence off the Yorkshire Coast.
In fact, cetaceans have caused such a stir here in the North Sea, the North Sea Wildlife Trusts has been set up to record sightings from Saltburn-by-the-Sea right down to Spurn Point.
Thankfully today in the UK cetaceans are protected. It is illegal to kill, injure or harass them.
Whitby falls into one of the Marine Protected Areas in England which includes Marine Conservation Zones, or MCZs, which have the aim of protecting our coastline and offshore waters.
There are now 50 MCZs doing their bit to protect our seas.
So, while it is sad to see a deceased minke, it is a rare event. We are far more likely to see dolphins and whales in the sea, doing what they do best: being part of our complex ecosystem and giving us those goosebump moments if they allow us a glimpse into their mysterious, enigmatic lives. We are truly blessed to live so close to the mysterious salty waters of the North Sea. We never take it for granted.

Sources for this blog:

www.nytimes.com/2020/09/26/world/australia/tasmania-beached-whales.html
https://uk.whales.org/whales-dolphins/species-guide/common-minke-whale/
www.whitbyonline.co.uk/whitbyhistory/whaling.php
www.theguardian.com/travel/2020/sep/09/whale-watching-boom-attracts-new-day-trippers-to-yorkshire
www.wildlifetrusts.org/marine-protected-areas/england
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