A third humpback whale has been spotted feeding off the Moray coast.
Wildlife fans came from across the country to watch a pair of the enormous mammals breaching off the coastline between Newburgh and Aberdeen last year.
And hundreds of whale watchers have been lining the beaches of Burghead and Hopeman over the last few weeks after a two appeared in the Moray Firth in December.
But now biologists have confirmed that another humpback has been identified swimming in both areas.
They made the discovery after carefully analysing dozens of photographs of the animal’s dorsal fins and comparing their distinct markings and scars.
However, there has yet to be a confirmed sighting of all three whales together in one location.
Kevin Robinson, director of the Banff-based Cetacean Research and Rescue Unit (CRRU), said the prospect of a new whale in the region is exciting but does not necessarily indicate a surge in the north-east population.
He said: “Humpbacks aren’t necessarily popping up all of a sudden.
“They are by no means common, but are seen in these waters intermittently and since they are a coastal species of large proportions, highly acrobatic, make big splashes when they leap and have a distinct blow, they are easily sighted from shore.
“Whilst we do appear to have a greater of animals in these waters during the past decade, which could be indicative of their recovery from hunting in the past, this highlighted interest is also likely to be a direct response of increased public interest
and the effects of social media reporting.
“The CRRU currently has about a dozen recognisable humpback whales in their research database, several of which have been sighted on multiple occasions/locations during the year, but we have yet to ever record a repeated sighting in consecutive or across multiple years, as with more numerous minke whales that the research group has been working with for the past 18 years.”
To find out more about spotting humpback whales visit www.crru.org.uk