New whale watching centre opened by ‘Jet’

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Whitby’s first whale watching centre was offically opened on Saturday by marine animal-lover and former Gladiator, Diane Youdale.

The centre in St Ann’s Staith will be the first regional office of The Sea Watch Foundation, an environmental charity who are working to improve the conservation of whales, dolphins and porpoises in the seas around Britain and Ireland.

Skipper and businessman Byan Clarkson pictured with Diane Youdale and Sea Watch Foundation Yorkshire co-ordinator Robin Petch

Skipper and businessman Byan Clarkson pictured with Diane Youdale and Sea Watch Foundation Yorkshire co-ordinator Robin Petch

The premises will feature a shop, gallery and boat trip booking office for Esk Belle III and the Specksioneer, the company’s wildlife watching yacht which is currently away being re-fitted.

Boat skipper Bryan Clarkson is the man behind the new centre which will provide opportunities for the public to help contribute to the foundation’s research which focuses on minke whales and porpoises which are found off the Yorkshire coast throughout the year and particularly in late summer and early autumn.

Billingham-born television presenter Diane, performed the ribbon cutting ceremony with Bryan. She explained how she met his team in 2010 while working for BBC1’s Inside Out television programme when she was asked to do a piece on Whitby’s new “whale industry”.

Speaking after enjoying a boat trip on Saturday morning Diane, a psychotherapist and life-coach who is currently presenting reality show Big Brother’s Bit on the Side for Channel Five, said: “I used to holiday in Whitby as a child and for me it’s a massive passion.

“The important thing about the work Sea Watch are doing is the oceans are like a barometer, for how we behave on the planet, and for us, monitoring the behaviour of our beautiful mammal brother and sisters out there in the sea, we can get a clearer indication as to how healthy the North East coast in particular is becoming.

“Growing up I remember it being very industry based with lots of chemicals from ICI where I was certainly born and brought up.

“To see it healthy, and see us celebrating our relationship with nature in this way, through the guys who work here, is worth supporting.”

In previous years, larger whales including humpback, sei and fin whales and harbour porpoises, seals and many sea birds have been encountered off the Whitby coast and in the future it is hoped work can be done surrounding offshore white beaked dolphins.

Bryan told the Whitby Gazette he was “delighted” to see the centre finally open.

He hopes to create an exhibition area detailing Whitby’s whaling heritage while he said Whitby Museum are very keen to work with them too.

There are also plans to develop the building’s cellar to accommodate school groups and to fit cameras to the Specksioneer which can beam back live footage from the vessel to the centre which could be shown on a big screen.

“I’ve been doing it for six years and I still have this problem with people believing whales are in the North Sea,” he said. “There are a vast array of whales off our coast.

“By developing this building it’s a proper shop window straight opposite the boats.”

While on a trip out to sea that morning, Diane saw a blow - a spray which happens as whales reach the water surface to breathe. However Diane didn’t get to see a whale up close. She said: “Brian let me steer the boat, it was brilliant fun, I would love to get my skippers licence.”

To see a video of the opening visit www.whitbygazette.co.uk