The search for a seventh whale seen in trouble off the British coast has been stood down amid hopes it may have returned to deeper waters.
The latest reported sighting off Mundesley, Norfolk, came after a bull died at Hunstanton in the county last week. This was the 30th sperm whale death in the North Sea this year.
A member of the Mundesley Coastguard Rescue Team contacted the UK Coastguard just after 10am today to report the whale was 300 to 400 yards offshore.
A spokesman said: “The whale, which is the seventh whale in that area, was reported to be alive and thrashing about in the shallow water.”
Mike Puplett, of the UK Coastguard, said: “We are advising people to keep at a safe distance from the whale, so we do not cause any further distress to it.
“We are doing all we can to assist the authorities and allow those with rescue experience to do their work.”
The search was stood down after low tide at about 2pm, following a 90-minute period with no further sightings.
The next low tide, when the whale is most likely to become stranded, is due at about 2am on Wednesday.
Crowds gathered at various points along the coast between Walcott and Overstrand hoping to catch a glimpse of the creature.
Keith Griffin, station officer for the Happisburgh and Mundesley Coastguard Team, said: “We’ve carried out an extensive search and are confident that if the whale was in that search area, we’d have found it.
“Low tide has now passed so with a bit of luck it will return to deeper waters and stand a chance of survival.”
British Divers Marine Life Rescue (BDMLR) said it had been contacted and was on standby to assist with any rescue attempt.
Stephen Marsh, operations manager at BDMLR, said: “At the moment the report from the Coastguard is that the whale is still free-swimming.
“Because we’re coming up to spring tide, the waters may be a bit deeper but that can be a double-edged sword because you get very high high tides and very low low tides.
“If it does strand the story will be very similar to what we’ve had recently - the whale will have very little chance of relaunching and, if it does, its chances of survival will be very low.”
Last week’s whale death followed the discovery of four dead whales washed up on the Lincolnshire coast and another at Hunstanton last month.
Others have been found in France, the Netherlands and Germany.
The Cetacean Strandings Investigation Programme, which examines all whale, dolphin and porpoise strandings in the UK, is working to establish why the whales came ashore and how they died.
This could help establish what the whales, thought to have come from the same bachelor pod normally living off the west coast of Norway, were doing in the North Sea.
One theory is that the male whales could have taken a wrong turn while heading south to find females or been lured by food.