A HUMPBACK whale never seen in Scottish waters before has been spotted off the west coast.

On July 9, leading wildlife tour operator Hebrides Cruises set sail with passengers on-board the vessel named Elizabeth G.

During the voyage two humpback whales were spotted in the water.

"A guest onboard spotted a big blow in the distance as we were making our way towards Gunna Sound,” said Hannah Lightley, a wildlife guide for Hebrides Cruises.

“There were lots of squeals and excitement onboard as I then confirmed this as a humpback whale.

“We then observed the animal surfacing several hundred metres in front of Elizabeth G with multiple tail flukes.

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“Whilst we were immersed in the sighting, skipper Alasdair then spotted another humpback whale around a kilometre away in the opposite direction, so we then headed towards this animal where it was tail slapping multiple times.

“We were 13 miles northwest of Gunna Sound in around 140m of water.

“Once closer, we switched the engines to neutral and that’s when we had the most incredible encounter of the humpback associating with the boat and eventually surfacing just metres from the bow and then swimming under the boat.”

Photographs of the sighting were then sent to Lyndsay McNeill at the Scottish Humpback ID project.

McNeill manages the catalogue of humpback whale sightings in Scotland, which aims to identify each individual whale spotted in Scotland.

The whales were able to be identified through photographs of their unique tailsThe whales were able to be identified through photographs of their unique tails (Image: Hebrides Cruises)

The first humpback encountered was confirmed as Barett who is listed as number 100 on the catalogue having previously been photographed in Scottish waters.

However, the second whale was confirmed as being new to Scotland and was subsequently named Sinclair is honour of the boat’s skipper Alasdair Sinclair.

“Although rare, humpback whales are now being sighted with increasing regularity in Scottish waters,” said McNeill.

“We’ve seen around 10 new individuals a year as well as a few familiar tails back in the same areas.

“Many of our matches from the Hebrides have been from Iceland.”

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McNeill is able to identify the whales through studying photographs of their tails, which are all unique.

“Every tail fluke is as unique as a human fingerprint and is used to identify the different whales,” she said.

“Humpbacks are known to migrate through Scottish waters between their feeding and breeding grounds.

“Much of what we know about these magnificent creatures has come from enthusiastic members of the public or ‘citizen scientists’ reporting what they’ve spotted and using a technique called Photo-ID to identify whales, building a better understanding of their movements.”

(Image: Hebrides Cruises)

Lightley added that the sighting had been a first for many of the passengers and crew on-board.

“This has been an epic day,” she said.

“Lots of tears, squeals, and big smiles aboard Elizabeth G with quite a few guests seeing their first humpback, as well as a first for our chef and senior deckhand.”

The rare sightings come just a few weeks before Hebrides Cruises inaugural In Search of Giants expedition cruise, which takes passengers to former whaling areas off the north and west coast of Scotland including St Kilda.