Wildlife tour operator Yorkshire Coast Nature reports 'earlier than ever' sightings of minke whales off Staithes

Minke whales not usually seen off the Yorkshire coast until July have already appeared in the waters near Staithes, according to a wildlife tour operator in the area.

Staithes

Yorkshire Coast Nature, which runs whale and seabird watching boat trips from the fishing village, reported the sightings several weeks ahead of their first summer sailing on July 2.

The tours are led by experienced wildlife guides and passengers spend up to six hours at sea watching for whales, dolphins, porpoises and birds.

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A statement from the company read: "Several sightings of minke whales in the past two weeks from the Staithes area have filled us with joy! Our minke whales usually return in July but this year sightings have started to be reported earlier. Bottlenose dolphins have also been seen regularly on the Yorkshire coast in the past few weeks. Seabird sightings have included large numbers of puffins reported by our captain Sean Baxter on the sea off Staithes."

Their boat trips will run until September and include shorter twilight sailings.

Cetacean tourism has boomed on the Yorkshire coast in recent years thanks to increasing numbers of whales - which follow mackerel shoals to feed - being spotted as a well as the permanent residence of a pod of dolphins that has migrated south from Scottish waters.

In the summer of 2020, 30 per cent more surveys of cetacean sightings were submitted by volunteers watching from the shore, with 162 completed compared to 124 in 2019. Most of the whales seen were minkes, but Jono Leadley from the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust also filmed a humpback breaching the water off Flamborough Head in a video that went viral.

There are now 40 'citizen scientist' volunteers who have been trainedto record whale, dolphin and porpoise sightings. In 2020, they spent 200 hours surveying from 30 locations.

There have been increases in minke sightings since 2015, and local boat owners have responded by running whale-watching tours for visitors - many of them in converted fishing vessels.

Yet four minke whales came to grief off Whitby last summer, when their carcasses washed ashore after they were killed in suspected entanglements in fishing wire and collisions with shipping.