Our 2012 field season on the Isle of Lewis in the Western Isles of Scotland began with us taking a slight detour up through the more southerly of the islands so that we could help out our WDCS ShoreWatch team at a local community event being held on North Uist. There was a great turnout and we got to catch up with our existing ShoreWatchers and help to recruit new ones. (For more information on ShoreWatch go to www.wdcs.org/shorewatch)
Our resident ShoreWatcher on Lewis had been having some amazing sightings (beaked whales, orca, minke whales, porpoises and common dolphins), and weather the week before we turned up and we were hoping that we were going to be just as fortunate. (On the islands you often hear the phrase “You should have been here last week” a lot!). A wee bit of a low pressure system had followed us across the Minch and although the sun was still shining, for the first 36 hours after our arrival we had gusting winds resulting in a choppy and turbulent sea, not conditions that were conducive for us to be able to see much at sea! At the first opportunity, during a respite from the wind, we ventured up to our land-based site at Tiumpan Head lighthouse to see if conditions had improved enough for us to start watching. Sadly they hadn’t and there was a hefty swell running down through the Minch from the north resulting in white-caps a plenty and accompanied by a bitterly cold Arctic wind. We decided to investigate anyway and before we’d even managed to get our kit out the car, Sarah spotted a large dorsal fin only a few 100m’s off the lighthouse and the call was made … “Orca”! One large adult male was accompanied by two smaller animals (both either females or one female and a sub-adult male) and a calf were sighted (with the size of the male orca dorsal fin even in rough conditions he’d have been difficult to miss!) although it was a relatively brief encounter and after approximately 20 minutes we lost sight of them as they headed out into the Minch and deeper waters. It may have been short-lived but the encounter was nothing short of fantastic!!!
With the weather once again closing in and the wind picking up, we decided to take our orca sighting and head for home. Buoyed up by the promise of better weather to come and an orca sighting in our pocket, we were feeling positive about the days to come! Not a bad start to the season we think you’ll agree!!