Sei whale in the Firth of Forth

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Sei whale in the Firth of Forth
Sei whale (stock image) - Zac Ashton

Incredible footage of a Sei whale swimming in the Firth of Forth has been captured by onlookers who enjoyed watching the ocean giant from as close as 20 meters!

Sei whales are rarely seen in Scotland, but last week a sighting in the Firth of Forth, Queensferry, prompted huge excitement for onlookers who didn’t realise just how lucky they were!  A father and his two daughters were walking when they heard a blow and looked around to see the ocean giant on its side exposing a pale fin. It then continued to swim at high speed around the bay, making short sharp turns and coming within just 20 meters of rocks on the shoreline, allowing the onlookers to see the sheer size of the mammal. Sei whales prefer deeper offshore waters, so to see it in enclosed waters such as the Firth of Forth, which reaches just 46m in depth, is very rare. Footage that the family captured was then shared on social media and the whale identified by its unique blow.

Sei whales grow up to a maximum of 16m and key features include an upright dorsal fin two-thirds of the way along its body. They have a long thin body, which is dark grey, making them easy to confuse with fin whales, however, there are a few noticeable differences – they are shorter than fin whales, have a shorter blow and both sides of their jaw are the same colour (as opposed to fin whales which have a white right lower jaw). As the Sei whale surfaces, their blowhole can be seen at the same time as the dorsal fin, which is more upright than that of a fin whale. Sei whales tend to travel alone or in pairs and are one of the fastest rorqual whales, reaching speeds of up to 30 miles per hour. When they dive, they don’t raise their tail flukes but just sink into the water.

Sei whales can be seen all around the world, but do appear to favour temperate to sub-polar waters. Typically, they are restricted to deep pelagic waters and are rarely found near the coast and have only been recorded in Scotland nine times in the last 50 years. Sei whales feed in cool temperate waters in the summer and are believed to migrate into warmer lower latitudes in the subtropics for winter. Threats to this species include noise pollution, ship strike and entanglement in fishing gear. Although not a traditional whaling target, they have been heavily exploited through the 1960s and 1970s until they were made a protected species in 1976 and the international whaling ban came into force in 1986.

This isn’t the only cetacean to visit the Firth of Forth. A humpback whale nicknamed Barney is a regular visitor and is very popular amongst local wildlife watchers. Most recently Barney was seen off the coast of Kinghorn in Fife with other sightings around Burntisland and also even off the west coast of Scotland! The huge mammal is identified and easily spotted by its distinctive dorsal fin, meaning locals are very confident in identifying him whenever he appears in the Forth.