Shetland whale confirmed to be on holiday from Caribbean

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A report by Kieran Beattie for The Press and Journal.

A humpback whale from a breeding population in the eastern Caribbean sea has been recorded for the very first time in British waters.

The enormous creature was captured displaying its tail flukes off the coast of Shetland by wildlife photographer Brydon Thomason.

Each individual whale has its own unique fluke markings – caused by scarring and pigmentation – which can be used by scientists to identify individuals, much like a fingerprint.

Mr Thomason explained that capturing clear images of whale tails is challenging for photographers in the UK, but thanks to the clarity of his latest shots, scientific identification was possible.

Experts from organisations in Ireland, Norway, America and other countries around the world trawled through their databases of hundreds of whale flukes to try and find a positive match for the gentle giant.

And earlier this month Mr Thomason was amazed to discover the humpback he spotted in Shetland waters in December was an individual from the breeding grounds off the island of Guadeloupe in the Caribbean – a UK first from this region.

Mr Thomason said: “Each and every one of us was amazed when word came back – they had found a match.

“This same whale had been photographed in the breeding grounds off Guadeloupe in the Caribbean – the first ever match from British waters to their breeding grounds.

“This unprecedented ID match in itself is of course significant and will hopefully perhaps help to grow our understanding of these wonderful creatures and their movements.

“For me personally, I was just lucky to be in the right place at the right time to get a shot good enough for images to be assessed by researchers and organisations.

“It is however their ongoing commitment, research and perhaps above all collaboration that makes discoveries such as these possible.”

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