Killer whales star as Fair Isle bird observatory celebrates new area
A pod of killer whales, otherwise known as orcas, arrived close to the shores of the little island community of Fair Isle to herald a major milestone for its famous bird observatory.
“I was surveying a guillemot cliff, recording feeding rates, when in the corner of my eye the sea was cut by a black and white back,” he said. “They were huge, powerful and feeding, and staying close in under my watch point - incredible views, mind-blowing.”
Soon to join him was FIBO assistant warden Jason Moss. “Reaching the tip of the Yessness Peninsula, two of the orcas gave the show of a lifetime, one after the other drifting slowly through the crystal clear water right under our feet. An utterly magical, unforgettable experience!”
It was a fitting display for Britain’s remotest human outpost, which on Saturday (July 2) saw the official opening of a £4 million building.
The first person to spot the whales was Fair Isle Bird Observatory (FIBO) seabird staff member, Dr Will Miles.
An orca causes a stir as it surfaces close to the Fair Isle Picture: Becki Rosser
FIBO warden, David Parnaby, described the climax of the event: “We were amazed at the spectacle they put on, first of all off the north of the island, but then again in South Harbour where four of the killer whales surrounded a seal on a tiny piece of rock.
“To be close enough to the killer whales to be able to hear them breathing as they came to the surface was incredible. It was very typical of Fair Isle that the whole event was witnessed by all the schoolchildren, most of the islanders and many guests; everyone wants to see something like that if they get the chance.”
The killer whales were first spotted at the shores of Fair Isle around 1.30pm and remained in the vicinity for two hours before departing south towards Orkney.
The wales spent two hours near Fair Isles before heading off towards Orkney Picture: Jason Moss
Killer whales are widely distributed around the Atlantic seaboard of northern Europe. In the UK, they are commonly sighted in northern and western Scotland. Killer whales are thought to congregate along the continental shelf in this region in the winter months and to start coming further inshore from May onwards, possibly following prey species – seals in the case of the Shetlands and Fair Isle.
This year, the first killer whale sightings were reported early with the first record in the Shetlands dating back to March 5 and March 25 in Fair Isle. In April, killer whales started to become a regular occurrence on northern Scottish coasts as well being sighted in Shetland and Fair Isle. May and June have seen a fairly even distribution of sightings all around Northern Scotland.
This year’s National Whale and Dolphin Watch – organised by Sea Watch - runs from 5 – 7 August 5 to 7. For more information visit www.seawatchfoundation.org.uk
NorthLink Ferries runs s service of state-of-the-art ferries to Orkney, Shetland and the Northern Isles.
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