A humpback whale has been seen off the coast of Norfolk for the first time.
The huge animal, estimated to be 50ft in length and weighing several tons, has been spotted numerous times just off the beach at Caister-on-Sea in the last few days.
Local fishing crews believe the whale has been lured in close to the coastline by huge numbers of herring – which it is feasting on.
Unusual visitor: A humpback whale, pictured, has been seen off the coast of Norfolk for the first time
One fisherman, Dick Thurlow, a former lifeboat coxswain, said: ‘There’s a massive amount of herring out there – we’re out there for the same reason – to fill our boots.
‘The conditions are perfect, and the herring I’ve seen this year are probably the best I’ve ever seen and I’ve been fishing since I was 14.
‘They’re mature, full of roe. I think they come back to where they were hatched to spawn. They should be there for the next week or so if the weather doesn’t change.
‘We’re getting them while we can, and I guess he is too.’
At one stage the whale came within 90 feet of a fishing vessel, which had Mr Thurlow’s son Arron on board, and surfaced five or six times.
The east coast fishermen are no strangers to marine creatures – often coming across seals, porpoises and sometimes pilot whales.
Mr Thurlow said: ‘You don’t want to get one of those in the nets.
‘We use drift nets and if we accidentally catch a seal or a porpoise, which happens sometimes, it’s not too hard to get them out before we do any harm.
‘I’m not sure we could say the same with a whale. It’s a big, big animal. The first thing we saw was the blow coming out the water, and you can smell it.”
Experts believe the humpback could stay off the Norfolk coast for the whole winter if there is enough food.
While this animal seems to be alone, humpbacks are known for an unusual technique called bubblenet feeding, where groups work together to capture large schools of fish.
Each whale has its own role in the process – one blows bubbles around the school to keep the fish from escaping, others make noise to scare or confuse the fish and help bring them to the surface, while others herd the fish together and upwards.
Once the fish are at the surface, all the whales lunge upwards with their huge mouths wide open and try to gulp as many fish as they can.
Norfolk wildlife artist James McCallum observed the whale from the shore for four hours.
He is now completing a painting which recreates the scene as it surfaced off Waxham, with a spray of vented seawater hanging on the wind as gannets circled above.
James, 43, said ‘I am fortunate enough to have seen humpbacks in Alaska, but I’m more excited about seeing this one here. They are mesmerising. I spent four hours solid just watching it.
‘By the time I first saw the spout there were quite a few people there to look. It was quite easy to spot once you got your eye in.
‘I reckon it was about a mile off, but you could see it blowing against the steel-coloured sea.’