ASTONISHED fishermen enjoyed a close encounter of the huge kind when a young whale attempted to befriend them at sea.

The juvenile humpback rubbed and carressed their vessels for 20 minutes as they fished in the waters some nine miles north-east of Whitby.

Experts from marine research and conservation charity Sea Watch fear the animal may have lost its mother and been making a desperate attempt to bond.

The heart-rending meeting took place earlier this month as anglers on Whitby charter boats Sea-Otter 2 and Mistress were fishing in a calm sea.

The former’s skipper Paul Kilpatrick said the friendly youngster was about the same length as his vessel - some 10 metres.

“I have never seen behaviour like it,” he said.

“It suddenly appeared and started rubbing against the boat, swimming under and around us and then rubbing its belly on the boat .

“It stayed for about 20 minutes, and when we had to move on it went over to the Mistress which was fishing about half a mile away. They radioed to say it was doing exactly the same to their boat.”

He added: “We see minke whales off Whitby most years, and there had been reports of humpbacks off the north-east coast of Scotland, but this is the only encounter we know about locally.”

The encounter was filmed by one of thoseon board and Sea Watch trustee and Whitby co-ordinator Robin Petch said: “Its behaviour suggest that of a young animal that has somehow become separated from its mother.

“It sounds as though it was trying to bond. Rubbing its belly on the boat mimics suckling behaviour of a calf towards its mother.”

He added: “I have grave worries for this youngster. My hope is that it has been reunited with its mother, but if it has become lost, or the mother has perished, it would be very unlikely to survive for very long.”

He appealed for anyone who has seen similar behaviour or spotted a humpback and its mother together along the east coast to contact Sea Watch sighting officer Danielle Gibas at 01545-561227 or email

  • The humpback whale, named for its distinctive shape, is known for its complex songs, and is found in oceans and seas across the world. They typically migrate up 16,000 miles each year. Adults can be 40 to 52ft long and weigh up to 35 tons.