A 20-ton humpback whale has been spotted off the Irish coast. Whale watchers Martin Colfer and Myles Carroll had sailed just over two miles out from Hook Head in County Wexford when they spotted the 42-foot-long cetacean.

Martin Colfer operates boat trips for tourists in the area hoping to see whales and dolphins and he told the Irish Examiner he thought there was a good chance he’d see one when he set off. He’d noticed there was a lot herring in the area which the whales feed off. Little did he know that not only would he spot a humpback, but there would also be three fin whales frolicking nearby too.

His companion Myles Carroll told the Journal.ie that even if you see a whale from a distance often they’ll vanish before you can get anywhere near them, “It can be very difficult to get close to whales,” he said. “They blow steam up first before they come up, so you can identify beforehand where to turn the boat towards them.”

Fortunately for him he still managed to snap a picture, “I clicked just in time,” he revealed.

Humpback whales are infrequently seen off the Irish coast, but this is thought to be almost certainly the first sighting in 2017 – although a pair were seen off of the Blasket Islands in Co Kerry early last year too.

The humpback – which is known in Irish as míol mór dronnach – has an estimated global population of at least 80,000, down from a pre-whaling population of 125,000, of which 12,000 live in the North Atlantic. In 2008 the species conservation was changed from ‘Vulnerable’ to ‘Least Concern.’

This is footage of some humpback whales spotted off Cork in 2008:



Read more: Record numbers of whales flock to Ireland’s shores for the fish

Humpback whales are infrequently seen off the Irish coast but this is thought to be almost certainly the first sighting in 2017.iStock