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Humpback whale sightings draw whale watchers to Belgian coast

Humpback whale spotted off Belgian coast
15:55 08/06/2022

Belgium usually isn’t a destination for whale watchers and enthusiasts, but many are now flocking to the Belgian coast to catch sight of a humpback whale that’s been observed daily between Knokke and Zeebrugge since the end of May.

This is only the sixth time that a living humpback has been spotted in Belgium and only the second time one has been glimpsed from the beach - rather than from a boat or plane, deeper at sea - according to conservation organisation Natuurpunt.

The whale can often be seen leaping almost fully out of the water before splashing back down, and the best place to catch sight of it breaching seems to be the Albertstrand near the casino of Knokke, usually after 15.00.

“The 'casino humpback' is the first to stay at more or less the same location for several days,” Natuurpoint says, adding that the whale is presumably the same one that was filmed on 23 May 2022 off the coast of Westkapelle in Zeeland. “For our country, this sighting is quite spectacular.”

Humpback whales spotted in the past in Belgium were usually discovered dead, in at least one case due to a collision with a ship. 

“Such 'collisions,' better known as 'ship strikes' in technical jargon, occur frequently and often result in serious injuries to the struck whale,” Natuurpoint explained. 

Since 2003, an increasing number of humpback whales have been reported in the southern parts of the North Sea, with several strandings and reports in the Netherlands, France and the United Kingdom. 

“There's no simple explanation for this apparent increase. Sometimes, a poor food situation in the northern North Sea is put forward as a possible reason, but this hypothesis requires further research,” says Natuurpoint.

“It’s also suspected that the number of humpback whales in the North Atlantic has increased, which could increase the chance of finding them in the North Sea.”

It is unclear how long the 'casino humpback' will continue to float around off the Belgian coast. Natuurpoint is asking people to report sightings on, noting that while the last recorded observation dates from 4 June, “it’s very possible that the animal is still in front of the Belgian coast.” 

Photo: Koen Verhoeyen & Tibbout Van de Walle (Natuurpunt)


Written by Helen Lyons