Saturday, 2 July 2011
Killer Whales in Fair Isle
Thursday 30th June heralded a spectacular encounter with one of the most awesome predators of the marine world: a pod of killer whales (otherwise known as orcas) arrived close to the shores of the little island community of Fair Isle. This was a fitting display for Britain’s remotest human outpost, which on Saturday 2nd July is to officially open the four million pound new building to mark a new era for Fair Isle’s world famous bird observatory.
The first person to spot the whales was Fair Isle Bird Observatory (FIBO) seabird staff member, Dr Will Miles. In his words:
“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. Had I imagined it? I stared at the spot, waiting… in a swirling vortex of fins and spray, the water suddenly erupted as eight killer whales hit the surface all at once! They were huge, powerful and feeding, and staying close in under my watch point - incredible views, mind-blowing, and I felt the adrenalin begin to kick! Struggling to clutch my phone, and nearly losing it down the cliff, I dialled the Bird Observatory to share the sighting.”
Soon to join him was FIBO assistant warden, Jason Moss. He takes up the story:
As the shout of “ORCA in Furse” rang through the Fair Isle Bird Observatory dining room, the split-second decision of whether to run to a vantage point or jump into a van was a big one and, on this occasion, I made the right choice! Reaching the tip of the Yessness Peninsula with Jane Reid and Becky Langdon, two of the orcas gave us 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!”
After that, everybody ran out from their lunch to see the killer whales, which by this time had circled round the east cliffs and moved into the South Harbour. FIBO warden, David Parnaby, describes the climax of the event:
“The one thing guaranteed to empty the Observatory is a ‘phone call to say that there are killer whales showing and today’s sightings coincided nicely with the whole Obs sitting down to lunch – needless to say, the soup was abandoned as all the guests and staff went dashing out to try to catch a glimpse! 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 and it was a real moment of high tension as they circled the seal. Although there was a lot of sympathy for the seal, everyone was amazed to see a wildlife spectacle like that so close up. 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. We know how lucky we are to live somewhere as amazing as this for wildlife and we see some pretty special things every day, but there’s no doubt that this sighting will really stick in the memory.”
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.
Heading south at the same time, but unfortunately a few hours behind, aboard the Fair Isle ferryboat, the Good Shepherd, was Sea Watch research director, Dr Peter Evans. He arrived on the Isle to be greeted by a mass of glowing, grinning faces full of joy at their afternoon experience.
Check out more photos on Sea Watch's facebook page.