You never forget your first whale
by Sarah Longbottom
Today’s full day trip began exactly as the forecast predicted; a bit soggy and very foggy. We departed Stornoway harbour in light rain - armed with waterproofs and hot drinks all round, our clients were excited to face the day and see what we could find. While atmospheric, the low fog was limiting our visibility and we were happy to see it starting to burn off as predicted as the morning progressed. Our first minke whale of the day silently surfaced in the mist, granting our group perfect views - first ever whale sightings for a lot of our guests so excitement on every deck as the animal surfaced a few more times before we decided to move on.
The Shiants loomed out of the mist as we approached, their summer visiting puffins, razorbills, and guillemots hurrying past overhead and through the water. We were delighted to see for the first time this season male guillemots on the surface of water with their fledglings; at this point the mothers will have exhausted their energy stores raising the youngster and abandoned the chick with the male parent. The tiny chicks are coaxed to take their leap of faith off the cliff faces into the water below - once on the surface, the father will stay with his offspring for five to seven weeks at sea, feeding it extensively. This tactic may appear strange, to abandon the safety of the colony so young and still so dependant, but studies have shown that the male parent can feed the chick up to twice as much if the youngster is out at sea with him, as he isn’t expending energy carrying the fish and flying all the way back to the colony. What can seem strange to us makes a lot of sense for these little birds who call the sea home. After taking some time to take in the Shiants, we circumnavigated the islands to appreciate this little archipelago in the Minch from every side.
The last of the cloud and mist burned away and we turned for home with blue skies and glorious sunshine. Just west of Eilean Garbh, we spotted a column-shaped blow of a whale - the animal surfaced too far away and too quickly for us to definitely identify it, but between the blow and the glimpses we did catch we are inclined to think it was a fin whale. We have had a few in the area recently but we will await a hopeful long-distance photograph from one of our guests before making a definitive id for logging purposes.
Closer to home, we called in to a white-tailed sea eagle site we have been keeping an eye on this season, and as we rounded the corner towards the nest, we were treated to an incredible sight. One of the adults flew right in front of our boat with a still-wriggling fish firmly grasped in its talons - so close that we needed no binoculars to make it out. We cruised around the corner to check in on the chicks, and were delighted to see two eaglets looking healthy and robust. As we observed, the adult we saw earlier swooped down with their fish to deliver the catch and we were able to listen in to the demanding cries of both the youngsters. A spectacular day all round, clients and guides alike thoroughly enjoying another true ‘Hebridean Adventure’.