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Watch: Majestic whale makes splash in Fishguard

21 Jan 2024 5 minute read
Humpback Whale by rjshade is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Jon Gower

The appearance of a humpback whale close inshore in Fishguard Bay on Friday both delighted and concerned observers.

These magnificent mammals are impressive enough when spotted out in open ocean, so seeing one scything through the waters of the harbour made it a red letter day for those lucky enough to see it.

Spine tingling

The animal was first spotted by Lloyd Nelmes, 29, near the breakwater between Fishguard and Goodwick.

Mr Nelmes, a marine project officer at the Sea Trust, which has a visitor centre in the town. He described the sighting as nothing short of “spine tingling.”

The baleen whale soon attracted excited crowds to search the chill January waters:


Many such mammals can get stranded in shallow water or onshore so there was concern that this individual might suffer the same fate.

In 2019 there were almost 300 strandings of marine mammals on the Welsh coast, with animals such as harbour porpoise, common dolphin, bottlenosed dolphin, Minke whale and sperm whale all being washed ashore.

But when local naturalist Tim Birch, Senior Policy and Advocacy Manager at Wildlife Trusts Wales returned there to scan the waters on Saturday the humpback was happily nowhere to be seen, having presumably returned to deeper waters.

But equally suprisingly, there were incredible numbers of another commoner species in these inshore waters of North Pembrokeshire:

Once in a lifetime

A weekend of whales and dolphins made it a weekend to remember for Tim. “Seeing a humpback whale come into Fishguard Bay has been a once in a lifetime experience. Hundreds of people have come to try and get a glimpse of this magnificent animal. It shows the ability of wildlife to inspire and excite us all. It also shows the wealth of marine life in our oceans and why we need to do a lot more to protect and restore our seas.”

Meanwhile at the other end of Britain, another whale species was causing rare excitement off mainland Shetland, 750 miles away from Fishguard.

An all-white beluga whale, an Arctic species, made an appearance off the Scottish coast and fortuitously seemed to be in no distress as it plunged and fed:

Moby Dick

The appearance of a humpback near the Stena Line ferry terminal in north Pembrokeshire wasn’t the first time a whale has caused excitement in Fishguard.

When the veteran film director John Huston was shooting Moby Dick in the town he arranged for a huge model of novelist Herman Melville’s Great White Whale to be constructed by the Dunlop factory in Stoke-on-Trent.

Gregory Peck – who had recently appeared alongside Audrey Hepburn in Roman Holiday – was the most expensive lead man in Hollywood at the time, was on the whale’s back when it broke loose near Strumble Head.

Luckily he was rescued by the local coastguard, although the whale was lost at sea, as the Times reported on 30 October 1954:

Ships off the coast of Wales and south-west England were warned yesterday to look out for a dummy whale, which was described as a ‘possible hazard to navigation….The whale, a 75ft model weighing 75 tons…broke away while being towed off Fishguard on Thursday. Coastguards and an R.A.F flying-boat searched for it yesterday without success. The film company’s unit at Strumble Head was towing the whale in a rough sea, filming a scene. When the tow-roped parted the assistant director, Mr K.O. McClory, jumped on the back of the whale. He fixed another tow-rope, but the whale broke away again and was lost sight of in the rough seas, drifting away into the fog.

Construction of the whale – Hanes Abergwaun

Marine conservation

The humpback whale seen in Fishguard this week may have ventured close inshore because of fishing pressures further out to sea.

Beautiful creatures, such sightings underline the need for marine conservation measures and protection areas all around the Welsh coast.

For more information about how you can help conserve marine life in Wales you can contact Sea Trust Wales. 

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