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Got the hump? No, having a whale of a time

A magnificent humpback whale -- one of the world's largest mammals -- has been thrilling sightseers off the coast.

The whale was spotted off Hook Head in Wexford after it had been tracked throughout the weekend.

The mammal, which has been codenamed #HBIRL11, treated spectators to some breathtaking sights as he displayed his breaching techniques 11 times, exploding out of the water before thundering back below the surf.

This exciting rare discovery brings the number of humpback whales documented in Irish waters to 11, with many of these re-sighted on an annual basis, indicating how rare the sightings are.

Locals had notified the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group (IWDG) of reported sightings and Duncannon-based skipper Martin Colfer immediately set off on his boat, The Rebecca C, in pursuit of the humpback.

According to Padraig Whooley, an IWDG sight co-ordinator, the whale was probably male, given the gnarled state of the creature's dorsal fin, which is often damaged in the wild when males fight during the mating process.

"One of the largest creatures on the planet exploding out of the water is truly one of the most remarkable sights in the animal kingdom," he said.

In all, researchers spotted four cetaceans (whale and dolphin) in the waters surrounding the Hook Peninsula -- harbour porpoises, common dolphins, a humpback whale and fin whales.

Blubber

The humpback whale was successfully biopsied by Dr Simon Berrow, of IWDG, using a dart gun to retrieve a small plug of skin and blubber -- a procedure the whale does not feel. "There is not even a flinch," Mr Whooley said.

Analysis of the images obtained of the humpback whale's tail fluke show this to be a new humpback, not previously recorded in Irish waters.

Humpbacks, which are known for their complex songs, breathe air through two blowholes, releasing a stream of spray that rises up to 13 feet above the water. An adult usually ranges between 12m to 16m long and weighs approximately 36 tonnes.

Ross Bartley, a wildlife filmmaker from Crossing the Line Films, captured the dramatic action and the footage will be used in the upcoming Wild Journeys series on RTE, which tells the story of humpback whale migration between Ireland and Cape Verde. Enthusiasts are hoping the latest sighting of the humpback is the first of many.

hnews@herald.ie