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An afternoon with Orca

By kinharviephoto, Aug 20 2018 12:31PM

Tuesday 24th July and I was in Shetland working for Hugh Harrop the owner of Shetland Wildlife. I was leading a 'Walk Shetland' group and we were over at Eshaness, a wonderfull cliff top walk on the north western side of Mainland Shetland. It was getting near lunch time when I received a message on my phone from Hugh ... "Phone asap". I knew that meant only one thing; there were orcas around and there was a chance that the walking group might get to see them.

I spoke to Hugh and learnt that a small fishing boat had found a pod of orcas, lead by the bull know as Busta and they were south of Eshaness but heading north. A quick discussion of how to proceed and as Hugh drove north from home we made our way back to the van and drove back to the village of Hillswick.

Hugh had arrived and was still in contact with the fishing boat. The orcas were just approaching Hillswick Bay and we hoped that they would turn in to the bay and start hunting. They didn't - we saw them at a distance and the group got some reasonable views through the 'scope that Hugh set up. The boat informed us that the orcas were moving south back out of Hillswick Bay and Hugh thought there was a good chance that they would then head west again and our best bet was to drive back up the road and overlook Sandwick Bay.

We got in to position and waited... and waited... and waited. By this time Nick McCaffery had joined us. Nick is another orca fanatic and uses drones to film them. He is exceptionally good at it and as the fishing boat was about to head away from the orcas, Nick sent out a drone to look for them. He not only found the orcas but also a group of sea kayakers who were right in amongst the orcas.

Finally we spotted them from the shore but once again they crossed the bay and disappeared out of sight. Back in to the vehicles and along to Braewick and the cafe. Watching from here we soon picked op the orcas and they did come a little closer but still showed no signs of hunting. Hugh then made a very good call. Based on past experience he thought that Busta would lead the pod on in to the next main bay at Tangwick and hunt there. So once again we set off in the vehicles, leaving the orcas behind and made the ten minute dash to Tangwick. Nick sent out the drone and was soon able to confirm that they were on the way. Initially it looked like they were going to continue west again but suddenly Busta veered in to the bay and the pod began to hunt.

We had all rushed down to the cliff edge and for the next twenty minutes were able to witness the orcas hunting seal only metres in front of us. Nick's drone videod them from above. Hugh and I were busy with our cameras and everybody wathced absolutley spell bound by the whole performance. Finally, having caught a seal - not really seen from land but Nick had filmed it - the pod moved away and it was time for me to drive the group up to the ferry in time for us to go North for a few days on Unst. We had a great time there but no one forgot the afternoon with the orcas.

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