AN ACCOMPLISHED nature photographer had a close encounter with humpback whales yesterday (Tuesday) that he says should bolster Shetland’s place as a top nature destination, even in the winter.
Brydon Thomason from Fetlar snapped a sensational shot of a humpback whale breaching close at hand when he went on a seal counting trip on a friend’s boat.
Brydon and Peter Hunter, from Uyeasound, had been on the trip for Scottish Natural Heritage when they saw the three whales moving placidly about 500m away off the north of Fetlar.
Brydon was especially interested as in 2016 a number of humpbacks lingered in the same area for several weeks, allowing comparison photos to prove the same animals were journeying to Guadeloupe in the Caribbean.
Brydon said: “It was brilliant. They were just surfacing peerie-wise and we were just making the decision to carry on with the seal census and leave when they changed direction and started in our direction.
“They were about 300m away when one of them started to perform. It did three full breaches out of the water. They put on quite a show. It was pretty special.”
Brydon said that he just raised his camera hand in the direction of where the humpback had breached and was “lucky” enough to catch it in full flight with his next photo.
It seems the humpbacks are now annual visitors to Shetland with the years prior to a decade ago yielding very few sightings.
Brydon said that the sea east of Yell has been chock full of mackerel for the past few weeks, as it was in 2016 when there was a good spell of similar calm conditions.
Naturalists back then had doubted the humpbacks would be eating mackerel, but they were probably after the same feed that the mackerel were after.
“How exiting it is to have this amazing wildlife here, particularly when people think it is slowing down for the winter, when it is actually just getting going,” he said.
The prevalence of social media and the ubiquity of amazingly powerful digital cameras meant Shetlanders were blessed with the ability to view and enjoy wildlife like never before, he added.
And the public have an increasingly important role to play in building up the body of science about all sorts of creatures.
This autumn has been especially bountiful: as well as the whales there have been a goshawk in Unst, a bearded seal in Burra and a snowy owl lingering around the back of Ronas Hill and the Bjorgs of Uyea.
Brydon will be sending the tail fluke images again to international organisations to see if there are match ups with photos taken in other areas.
He urges anyone who encounters marine mammals to keep a safe distance and consult the Scottish Marine Wildlife Code before setting out to see marine mammals.