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11 February 2008

One of the humpback whales off Bressay yesterday afternoon - Photo: Roy LongmuirThe two humpback whales seen off Yell last week surfaced just north of Bressay yesterday afternoon (Sunday).

Ornithologists Martin Heubeck and Paul Harvey were on their way back into Lerwick on the survey vessel Dunter III after a winter seabird count around the shoreline of Nesting when skipper Jonathan Wills received a message from Robbie Leask, out fishing off the Score Point, Bressay.

Mr Leask said he'd been watching two whales for over an hour, from about half a mile away.

At first they were thought to be minkes but as Dunter III edged closer it became clear that they were humpbacks.

"When we were about 500 metres away I cut the engines and we just drifted," Dr Wills said. "After 15 minutes or so the smaller of the two animals, about nine metres long, circled the boat twice and then dived right under us. We could see its white flippers under water.

“It was an amazing encounter and the first time I'd seen a humpback in 16 years of looking for them around Shetland. I missed one off Sumburgh by five minutes about 10 years ago."

The whales were still feeding in the area at sunset, an hour later.

Dr Wills appealed to anyone else who saw the whales to follow the whale watching code: "All you have to do is shut down the engines and the sonar and wait. Like orcas and minkes, these are very curious animals and if you're patient they'll almost certainly come up close for a look at you. If you chase them at speed you'll just scare them off."

Local amateur photographer Roy Longmuir, who was crewing on the Dunter III yesterday, got some close-up pictures which will now be analysed to see if the whales can be identified from the markings on their fins and tail flukes.

Most recent update - Sunday, 03 August 2008 23:44
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