Oban Humpback Whale
Whilst writing our Cetacean blog recently, we realised that we hadn't ever written one about our Oban humpback whale encounters from the last couple of years!
Before the first sighting, if someone had told us they had spotted a humpback near Oban, they we would have called BS! Oban is relatively enclosed in the fjordic west coast for transient large cetaceans, generally they don't hang out here (there have been minke whales not too far away but they are resident over summer - even then it would rare to see them so close). It's a relative bottleneck around the enclosed coastline, not the same food that they would eat with lots of noisy boat traffic. If they had said the islands around the Hebrides, then we would have said, WOW that's rare, are you sure? if so then awesome! But not Oban.........
So anyway, it was warm and sunny day and we got the last minute shout that there was a humpback near Oban. It was from a reputable source, however we were skeptical but dropped everything to head out for a look. We ended up searching around the south end of the Isle of Kerrera and eventually the whale surfaced close to the boat. It seemed to be shallow diving and inquisitive to the passive watchers - which was great to see everyone acting really responsibly. We spent a lot of time just floating around with the whale going back and forward! It was a sub-adult size and didn't show any signs of distress so it's presence posed a lot of questions! How did it end up here, is it on it's own, will it manage to get out to open sea?
Eventually we headed home, totally stoked after an amazing encounter with a very rare occurrence of that species in that location! Humpbacks do visit Scottish waters on their migrations between the Tropics and Arctic, however they would generally pass the outer islands in an offshore context. In terms of a species they do visit enclosed coastal areas such as in Norway or Canada to feed, however it's very rare to see that here. There have been more and more sightings in the Firth of Forth on the East coast recently over winter. So perhaps now that we have far healthier fish stocks they will start to visit coastal waters more often? (given the recovery around the Forth after fishing bans on certain inshore fish stocks).
See here for a number of pictures of the encounter along with a video from guys in kayaks earlier in the day - they had a really amazing encounter! I'm not sure they realise quite how rare it was!
Well - if we thought that was a once in a lifetime encounter, then we were more than surprised to get a call again this time in winter! However, even more unlikely, was that this Humpback was in Dunstaffnage bay, where we keep our boats. This time it was quite different weather, misty and wet compared to the lovely sunshine we had on our previous encounter! This humpback was even smaller than the last, which was far more concerning. Given the tight bay with small entrance, many moorings and nearby marina, it was hanging out in one spot not moving much, just resting and everyone thought the worst. Eventually it headed off towards the marina, sitting next the pontoon for a while before heading out the entrance and away.
Check out Shane's picture from in the bay, it was very close to SAMS (Scottish Association Marine Science - ironically!!) - so they were able to film some amazing footage from high up in the buildings. The last footage in the video was from over at the marina and crazy to see! We did hear of one unconfirmed report the whale was spotted near Duart castle on the way out the Sound of Mull later in the day. Thankfully another happy ending to the story, there was no stranding and they both left to head out to open water!
If you want to read about the main cetaceans we see then check out our top 5 cetacean blog here. We do run a whale and dolphin trip from Oban, along with having regular sightings on most of our other tours too. Or if you want to get a little closer (in a respectful and managed encounter, then have a look at our winter tours to Arctic Norway where we swim with humpbacks and orca. More details on this tour here.