On July 9th 2024 Hebrides Cruises ship Elizabeth G was returning from the Outer Hebrides via Gunna Sound off the island of Coll when a shout went up from Helen, one of the guests.  She had spotted a big “blow” in the distance which could only be made by a whale, and this was quickly confirmed as a humpback whale by our onboard Wildlife Guide Hannah Lightley. As everyone on board watched with amazement, the whale surfaced several hundred metres in front of Elizabeth G, exhibiting multiple tail flukes! 

Meanwhile Hebrides Cruises Skipper Alasdair Sinclair had spotted another humpback whale around one kilometre from the vessel so Elizabeth G was carefully steered towards the second animal which was tail slapping multiple times. As they got closer, the engines were switched to neutral so as not to disturb the whale.  At that point the guests experienced an incredible encounter as the humpback whale decided to associate with the vessel, surfacing only several metres from the bow and then actually swimming under the boat.  Whales are naturally inquisitive animals and will sometimes choose to approach and swim around vessels. All Hebrides Cruises Skippers and crews are WISE accredited and strictly follow correct protocols when encountering marine mammals and always let the animals come to them.

Everyone onboard was transfixed at the encounter, with big smiles, squeals of excitement and even tears amongst the group, as many of the guests, and two of the Hebrides Cruises crew, had never encountered a humpback whale before.

Hannah immediately got in touch with Lyndsay McNeill who runs the Scottish Humpback Whale catalogue and sent per photos so she could ID the whales. Every tail fluke is as unique as a human fingerprint and is used to identify whales. Photographs are used for ‘Photo-ID’, and when a whale is identified in a specific location, it’s possible build a better picture of their movements by having information on where else that whale has been photographed. The first humpback whale encountered was confirmed as ‘Barrett’, which is number 100 in the Scottish Humpback catalogue, and which was seen in the same area in 2022 and 2023. However, the second humpback whale that swam under the vessel has been confirmed as a ‘new whale’ i.e. it hasn’t been seen in Scottish waters before.

So the final exciting news from this amazing encounter was that because the second humpback whale hasn’t been identified before, Hebrides Cruises guests and crew were given the opportunity to give the whale a name.  It is now called ‘Sinclair’ after Skipper Alasdair Sinclair who first spotted it, and who is of course quite delighted!