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Nature / Whales cavort to the east and west

Spectacular drone footage of humpback whales has been captured.

Humpback Whale, Urafirth, Shetland

We enjoyed an incredible evening with this Humpback Whale at Urafirth. Here's a short clip of some drone footage filmed by Hugh of the action including some spectacular feeding shots. Huge thanks to Jay Evans.

Posted by Shetland Wildlife on Monday, 22 April 2019

WHALE watchers have been gifted the rare treat of close-in displays by humpback whales at Hillswick and Bressay Sound over the past few days.

Wildlife photographers Hugh Harrop and Nick McCaffrey were among a group of people to see a humpback which is still in Hillswick Bay today, apparently feeding on plankton blooms around mussel farms.

Both men have captured spectacular drone footage of the whales which has been posted on the Shetland Orca Sightings Facebook page.

The whales came in as close as 200m of the shore but spent most of their time in mid-bay or feeding around mussel strings.

Shetland wildlife expert Harrop said that spring sightings of humpback whales, a species that was heavily targeted by commercial whaling, appear to be on the increase. They are more commonly seen around October and November.

Harrop said there had been a “spate of records” from the autumn which was a peak period for humpbacks around Shetland.

But this spring whales have been seen off Fetlar, Bressay Sound (which was almost certainly the same whale seen a day later at Aithsetter, Cunningsburgh) and now Hillswick.

“We are definitely getting two and possibly three different animals between March and April. It is a welcome sight that that we are starting to see them in the spring as well as October,” he added.

According to Harrop, it is impossible to say which of several populations of humpbacks the sighted whales could be from. Only one animal seen in Shetland has been identified elsewhere from its tail fluke, and there have been no identifications made from the dorsal fin, which is the other unique characteristic.

Humpbacks overwinter off the west Norwegian coast where they gorge themselves on herring. But they also breed in the mid Atlantic and west of Shetland and make migratory stop offs in the Azores on their way to the Bahamas.

Harrop said that now whaling was ended, pollution and climate change were the two main factors driving changes in humpback whale populations.

McCaffrey, of Southspear Media & Surveys, said that it was difficult to split the increase in whale sightings between a genuine increase in numbers and the prevalence of social media and technology which has allowed news of cetacean sightings to spread like wildfire.

The Hillswick Humpback!

What a day! Just some sample clips from an amazing experiance with good friends watching this spectacular beast feeding.

Posted by Southspear Media & Surveys Ltd on Monday, 22 April 2019

He said that the Hillswick humpback had appeared attracted to what was possibly plankton off the mussel strings and had also been feeding near the St Magus Bay Hotel.

McCaffrey said that the humpback was a great species to film with its graceful undersea pirouettes and big pectoral fins making it easy to follow even when it had dived.

He added: “It is surprising to have had so many successful attempts at filming them so early in the year.”

But he said that an increase in numbers could only be proclaimed more confidently in the course of time.

“The other consequence is that social media could be having a more pivotal role,” he added.

Danielle Johnson, who has only been in Shetland for a week, was alerted to the presence of a humpback whale in Bressay Sound on WhatsApp by her partner Karen McKelvie who was in another part of Shetland entirely.

That enabled Johnson to join a small throng of people beside Lerwick fish market who watched the humpback sport around close to the shore on 20 April.

She said: It was only 60m away from us which was incredible. I watched it for about 20 minutes.

“My brother Frankie passed away a while ago, aged 19, and asked to listen to calming whale music at the time – which was odd considering he liked Metallica – so seeing the whale felt extra special.”

Johnson said that she had enjoyed telling her friends of the experience as most of them thought seeing a seal was unusual.