A group of children were joined by a humpback whale while swimming at an Aberdeenshire beach.
The family from Germany were playing at St Cyrus beach on Monday evening when the whale suddenly appeared a few metres away.
They watched for around an hour as the whale ate food and completed several breaches around 10 metres from the shore.
The whale was spotted again several times on Tuesday and yesterday, further from shore.
Rocco Siegert, who is holiday with his wife Susann and two friends yesterday, spoke of his surprise when the whale appeared so close to youngsters Leo, 13, Ryu, 11 and Amaya and Elina, both 8.
He said: “It was around 5pm and our four children were swimming in the sea and after a while we saw this big black thing appear near them, maybe about eight metres away.
“We then realised it was a whale and started to take photographs. It was moving back and forth. We couldn’t believe it was so close. It was really big, maybe about seven metres. It was here for about an hour and breached several times.”
Rocco, who lives in Berlin, was concerned that the whale may have been in trouble so close to the shore so sought out the St Cyrus Nature Reserve manager Therese Alampo.
“I ran down in complete excitement – the tourists were quite amused at my reaction,” Therese said.
“The whale seemed to be utilising the rich feeding in the water at the moment.
“On Tuesday it went back out to deeper water and it crested several times over the day, coming all the way out of the water and slapping its tail down again, then coming back into the shallows to feed again.
“There were a lot of people on the beach yesterday. We had a nature session with some six year olds yesterday and I think it will be something they never forget.
“We have had whales at St Cyrus before but it is not a regular occurrence and we’ve never had one so very close before.”
At the start of August last year a humpback was spotted in the Ythan Estuary near Newburgh beach, 15 miles north of Aberdeen.
Rocco added: “We are travelling around Scotland and wanted to find a beach so ended up at St Cyrus.
“We thought it might be normal to see a whale here. We didn’t realise it was so unusual.
“It will be a good story to tell people back in Germany.”
Breaching may be a communication tool
Australian scientists believe they may have solved the question of why whales breach with the results of a study announced earlier this year.
The University of Queensland study found that breaching is far more common when pods of humpback whales are far apart (at least 4,000 meters or 2.5 miles), and fin or tail slapping is more frequent as groups split or come together.
They said these patterns suggest breaching and slapping play a role in both long-distance and close-range communication.
By slamming their massive bodies into the water, the resulting sounds, like a drum, can travel enormous distances.