Basking Shark Map

Oban Humpback Whale

Jan 15 2020

humpback whale around the Isle of Kerrera, Oban, Scotland

Whilst writing our Cetacean blog recently, we realised that we hadn’t ever written one about our unusual Oban humpback whale sightings from the last couple of years!

Before the first sighting, if someone had told us they had spotted a humpback whale near Oban, we wouldn’t have believed them. Oban is relatively enclosed in the fjordic west coast for transient large cetaceans, generally, they don’t hang out here. Even our resident minke whales are rarely seen this close to the mainland. The topography of the islands creates a different bottleneck in the enclosed coastline, with different species and plenty of boat traffic, coming in and out of Oban which is largely known as the gateway to the Isles. Even in the Hebrides, with its richer and quieter waters, this would be a rare sight.

June 2018

It was a warm and sunny day and we got the last-minute shout that there was a humpback near Oban. It was from a reputable source, but even then we were still skeptical, but couldn’t miss the chance to take 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 – it was great to see everyone acting 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 its presence posed a lot of questions! How did it end up here, is it on its own, will it manage to get out to the 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 the Arctic, they would generally pass the outer islands further offshore. It isn’t unusual to see humpback whales this close to shore in other parts of the world, in Norway and Canada, humpbacks come into coastal areas to feed.

There have been more and more sightings in the Firth of Forth, on the East coast, over recent years. So perhaps now that we have far healthier fish stocks they will start to visit coastal waters more often?
Fishing bans in the Forth have seen improvement of fish stocks here, and what a fantastic result!

Here are some locals enjoying a once in a lifetime encounter!

Feb 2019

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! 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 a small entrance, many moorings and a 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 to 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 of 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 of 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.


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