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Crowds thrilled as whales feast on birds

Sitting duck: a young killer whale grabs a long-tailed duck at Mousa Sound. Pic. Hugh Harrop

A POD of four killer whales kept a crowd of wildlife watchers entranced for hours on a still afternoon in Shetland on Sunday.

An adult female orca led one immature whale and two even younger whales from the south west tip of Shetland at West Voe round to the east of the islands, swimming up to Mousa Sound where they were last seen in the afternoon as it got dark.

The crowds gather to watch the pod of four killer whales at Mousa Sound. Pic. Hugh Harrop
Shetland Wildlife tour operator Hugh Harrop said upwards of 200 people were watching the whales by the afternoon, causing gridlock on the roads in the area as more people heard about their arrival.

Mr Harrop said the most exciting part of the experience was observing the two youngest whales catching small birds, an unusual but not unheard of spectacle.

“We witnessed the two young ones turning on a sixpence, diving and slapping their tails and watched a long tailed duck come to a bitter end. When I got home and downloaded the images I could see there were loads of black guillemots there too,” he said.

“The youngest whales were certainly hunting birds, which is unusual but not unknown in Shetland where there have been at least two documented cases.”

He suggested it was probably play rather than hunger that brought about such behaviour. “Pretty much anything marine is on their diet,” he added.

Killer whales are regular visitors to Shetland waters and Mr Harrop said he would be sending details of this latest sighting to Dr Andy Foote of the North Atlantic Killer Whale ID (NAKID) Project to add to the growing information base on these creatures.

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