Blue whale caught swimming in British waters
This unique but distant shot of a small dorsal fin cutting through the Atlantic marks the only accepted pictorial evidence of a blue whale off the UK's coast.

The huge cetacean, measuring twice the length of a double-decker bus, was seen 250 miles south west of Cornwall over a deep-sea canyon on the edge of the Bay of Biscay, part of which lies within within English territorial waters.

Prof Russell Wynn from the National Oceanography Centre took the photograph while taking part in a marine mammal survey on board the Royal Research Ship James Cook last month.

He explained: "I was enjoying watching up to seven Fin Whales around the ship, when the blue whale suddenly surfaced about a kilometre away.

"I had just enough time to secure some conclusive photos before the visibility decreased and the whale disappeared into the gloom."

The sighting highlights the spectacular return of the blue whale from the brink of oblivion.

Hunted to near extinction 100 years ago, the largest of all the whales has been seen from ferries crossing the Bay of Biscay in recent times and there was a photograph of one taken off south west Ireland seven years ago.

The last week has seen the BBC filming blue whales and other marine mammals in California's Monterey Bay, where the deep canyon waters create a food chain bonaza by throwing up huge amounts of plankton, drawing in blue and humpback whales as well as apex predators, orca and great white sharks.

The spot where Professor Wynn found the blue whale seems to have the same magnetic qualities. Besides the blue whale, he spotted more than 20 fin whales - the second largest animal on Earth.

Using a Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV), the team also recorded a rarely seen broad-billed swordfish at the depth of several hundred metres as well as blue sharks.

Although the RRS James Cook CODEMAP2015 expedition is primarily focusing on seabed habitats, seabird and marine mammal observations are being carried out daily.

Dr Veerle Huvenne, who is chief scientist of the CODEMAP2015 expedition, described the moment the whale was sighted: "There was huge excitement on board as many people got a glimpse of their first blue whale, but only later did we realise that this is probably the first to be photographed within English waters.

"The Biscay margin is already recognised as a hotspot for whales, dolphins and seabirds - our new data further underline the importance of this area for iconic marine life."

More information on the expedition can be found on and

The expedition can also be followed on Twitter: @codemap2015