A Ballycastle photographer has scooped an incredible sighting of a highly elusive whale from the High Arctic in what is only one of a handful of times the species has been seen off the UK’s coastline.
Lucky photographer Gordon Watson managed to capture a shot of the beluga earlier this week off the coast of County Antrim while out looking for much smaller marine animals.
Gordon had visited a stretch of coast between Portbradden and Dunseverick to photograph jellyfish but as he looked down from the cliffs spotted the distinctive arching back of the beluga breaking the surface.
Thousands of belugas live among the ice floes that litter the area east of the Svalbard archipelago, but only on extremely rare occasions do they swim as far south as the British Isles.
The beluga sighting is bound to be the headline event of Sea Watch’s annual National Whale and Dolphin Watch, taking place this week from Shetland to the Channel Islands.
Hundreds of cetacean enthusiasts have been braving high winds and unseasonal cold seas in a flotilla of boats to count the whales and dolphins that feed, breed and migrate around our coastline.
Sea Watch says the beluga sighting is believed to be the first from Northern Ireland, while there have only been 17 previous British records, 10 of them in the last 30 years.
The vast majority have been from Scotland between June and September.
Dr Peter Evans, Director of the Sea Watch Foundation, who helped confirm the beluga’s identification, explained the possible reason for its arrival to our shores.
He said: “This is not the first Arctic species to occur in Britain this year.
“Back in February, the first European sighting of a bowhead whale was captured on a smartphone in the Isles of Scilly.
“In that instance, it was thought that the fragmentation of floating ice may have resulted in whales typically associated with pack ice, straying much further south.
“Whether the same has occurred in the case of this beluga is not clear but sea temperatures have been unusually low this summer.”