Sperm whale goes sightseeing in Scotland

Sperm whale goes sightseeing in Scotland

West coast town Oban receives an unexpected visit from an ocean giant...

Everyone looks forward to a holiday, and it seems that it's not only humans that like to do a bit of sightseeing!

The Easter weekend bought a very unusual visitor to Oban, a harbour town on the west coast of Scotland known as the "Gateway to the Isles". A young sperm whale arrived in the bay on Easter Sunday and has spent 9 days swimming around the harbour.

Oban Map

People have been lining the harbour walls hoping to catch a glimpse of the giant mammal (around 12m in length) as it surfaces and blows before continuing its circuit.

Oban Sperm Whale 2

Local wildlife experts have been keeping a close eye on the whale and have managed to capture some wonderful pictures. Chris Jackson, skipper of the Highland Tiger - a whale-watching and wildlife boat based nearby - was first person to report seeing the marine mammal and has kindly allowed us to use his photos here.

Oban Sperm Whale 3

 

Cause for concern?

Although the opportunity to see a sperm whale up close is fantastic, scientists and whale experts were beginning to get concerned about the well-being of the whale. The organisation British Divers Marine Life Rescue (BDMLR) co-ordinated a team monitoring the youngster to watch out for signs of distress.

The team includes two animal behaviour researchers from the nearby Scottish Association for Marine Science (SAMS), Drs Ben Wilson and Steven Benjamins. They have been listening to recordings of the whale's activity in order to get an idea of what it is up to in the bay.

By comparing the recordings with the sounds that sperm whales make when they are in the open ocean, Drs Wilson and Benjamins, working with colleagues at St Andrews University, were able to find out that the young visitor was not feeding during its time in the harbour. By listening to the whale use its echolocation they also knew that the whale was aware of it's surroundings.

As the days ticked by the team became more worried that the whale might end up stranded, a situation that could lead to another tragedy like in September 2012 when 16 pilot whales died after getting stuck on a beach near Fife in Scotland.

 

Good news!

Thankfully the latest news from Oban is that the sperm whale left the harbour at around 4pm on Monday 8th April and made it's way into deeper waters. It's departure was quite eventful, however, as it had an uncomfortably close encounter with a boat on it's way out.

A spokesman for British Divers Marine Life Rescue said: "Yesterday, at approximately 4pm, the whale headed out of Oban harbour, heading initially towards Maiden Island and Lismore. It then headed southwards from the southern tip of Lismore on the tidal flow, but then may have turned northwards.

"Before leaving the harbour, the whale had dived immediately in front of a moored barge and scraped its head on the bow. This has left it with a visible surface wound but veterinary experts agree that it is unlikely to be life-threatening as, although relatively large, it has not penetrated deep and has just scraped the outer skin. Sperm whales often sport many scars and their skin heals well in the ocean."

Planet Science will do our best to keep up-to-date with the travels of Oban's largest sightseer - check back soon for more news. In the meantime you can visit the Sea Watch Foundation's website for the latest reports on whales and more...

 

 

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