Thursday, 30 August 2012

24th of Orca-ust...remember the date

Another Friday morning on Mull and I awoke to the sound of heavy rain pelting down on the roof and I looked out of the window with the only word I could think of was grim! Two friends Duncan and Craig had slept on the couch after a late night with past and present Sea Life Surveys crew playing cards. The playing deck used the night before was cetaceans of the world, and when the Orca card was seen it was pointed out and mentioned just as the word seems to be spoken of on every day that I have spent on the island in the last three seasons. I must admit they do get in your head (including your dreams) and on most trips I have been crewing, they have driven me on to concentrate on the seas harder for an opportunity of encountering them.

The iconic animals are one of the most recognisable species on the planet and top predators in their environment. Just like Eagles are the rulers of the skies and Polar Bears are kings of the Arctic, the Orcas are the lords of the ocean. There is a resident pod of Orcas off the west coast of Scotland which patrol large areas of the Hebridean waters and further afield. The wolves of the sea are apex predators and can go where they want and prey on what they want so it is very hard to ever track their movements. Sea Life Surveys head guide Ruth was coming to the end of her fourth season and had yet to encounter Orcas on a trip.

The trip today was a four hour Wildlife Adventure which is family orientated and focuses on sheltered waters looking for a variety of species off the north coast of Mull. We had over 40 on board so it was a very busy boat as we headed out of Tobermory harbour in the rain.  An hour into the trip and the sightings had been quiet but the winds were down as the sea state was good so there was still hope of seeing marine species in the time to come. 

A short while later and I was on the front of the flying bridge scanning and Ruth came up in a state saying that Silver Swift (another tour operator) had been on the radio and they had Orcas 5 miles to the west! Normally out of our range on a four hour trip but Jimbo the skipper went full steam ahead to try and catch up with the action. 

We eventually got in viewing range of the reported location and Silver Swift was joined by another vessel close by so we knew that the Orcas would still be present. We all focused hard on the area and suddenly a big black sail appeared above the surface which showed well from nearly a mile away. That was a male Orca surfacing, showing its huge dorsal fin of up to six feet!  There were three Killer whales and they were identified as Kinky, Aquarius (both Bulls) and a female called Puffin.     

We stayed near by the three animals for up to ten minutes and we were treated to one particularly close pass! They seemed to be travelling and James the skipper / director of Sea Life Surveys set an example to the world of wildlife tourism and did not chase them and wanted to see the species on their terms so we left them to it after a breathtaking encounter that I will remember for the rest of my life!

What a privilege to see wild British Orcas and a huge thank you to Sea Life Surveys for giving me that opportunity. UK wildlife means a lot to me and this has to be regarded as one of the best spectacles in the country. To have seen Aurora Borealis and Orcas in the space of six months in Great Britain I class myself as very fortunate and it means I don't need to go to Iceland after all! 

Below are some photos and video captures including Andy Tait's superb extended version of the events which will hopefully bring our experiences closer to the viewers.  

Here is Sea Life Surveys captains log with more photos and information from the day -

Here is a link to the identified Orcas known as the west coast community -

Distant Orca with panoramic landscape, best type of wildlife photography

Male and female staying close showing strong bonds...
Well I suppose closer wildlife captures look good as well!

Bull surfacing with North west Mull and the Treshnish isles behind...

Andy Tait's superb video footage of the events... 

My short video during close pass...

Ewan Miles


  1. Ewan,

    great post, amazing videos.


  2. Thanks for looking John, yes I am so lucky!