Humpback whale seen in German seas, experts stunned

BERLIN (Reuters Life!) - Scientists have spotted a humpback whale off Germany’s Baltic coast for the first time in 30 years, a sighting experts described as a “scientific sensation”.

The director of the German Marine Museum in the northern city of Stralsund issued a statement to confirm that photographs brought to him last week by two ornithologists showed a humpback whale in the Baltic Sea off the island of Ruegen.

The pictures even showed the 12-metre (13 yards) whale, which experts believe was lost, leaping out of the waves and diving back under water.

“It is very, very rare to see a humpback whale here, I’d agree with the museum director that this is indeed a sensation,” Volker Homes, whale expert at wildlife group WWF, told Reuters.

He noted that humpback whales, best known for their long and complex song and for their acrobatics in and out of the water, usually spend the summer months in polar waters.

Homes said there was a reasonable chance that the whale would navigate himself out of the Baltic Sea and back into Arctic waters where he would find a better food supply.

“Maybe noise from ships disoriented him,” Homes said, adding the Baltic is one of the world’s busiest shipping routes.

Humpback whales, usually 12 meters to 15 meters long were hunted nearly to extinction a few decades ago but stocks are gradually growing thanks largely to a moratorium on their commercial whaling.

Campaigners say they are still vulnerable and some estimates now put global stocks at around 20,000 to 25,000.

Harald Benke, director of the Stralsund museum, said the last time a humpback whale was seen in German waters in the Baltic was in 1978 and prior to that as long ago as 1851.

Germany’s most famous encounter with a whale, however, was in the 1960s when a white whale swam up the river Rhine to Cologne. Locals dubbed it Moby Dick and it quickly became part of Rhine folklore, inspiring a company to build a whale-shaped cruiser of the same name which is still in operation.

Reporting by Madeline Chambers