Minke whales migrate to the seas off the west coast of Scotland’s each summer to feed on the plentiful supply of crustaceans, plankton, and small schooling fish.  It is always a thrilling moment for our guests and crew alike when the shout goes up that a minke whale is spotted surfacing.

For over 20 years the Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust (HWDT), based in Tobermory on Mull, have done an outstanding job leading the way for the conservation of whales, dolphins and porpoises in the waters of western Scotland with a research focus on “Citizen Science”.  By engaging with the public, HWDT has enabled the the marine wildlife of the Hebrides to be documented on an impressive scale, building a long term picture which will help understand and protect marine species for the future.

HWDT have now published an incredible digital catalogue of photographs of over 300 individual minke whales submitted by members of the public since 1990. Download the catalogue here>

Each year, thousands of photographs are sent to the Trust by the general public and wildlife-watching tour vessels as well as the volunteers aboard the Trust’s own research yacht Silurian, gathered through the smartphone app “Whale Track”; Hebrides Cruises are proud to be recognised by HWDT as one of the top contributers. Researchers than look at the photos for specific markings or features to identify and catalogue individual marine species

The research shows that a third of minke whales have been seen more than once and others many times. Two particular minke whales are now becoming celebrities.  “Snowy” has been visiting for more than 27-years – the longest known history of sightings for this species in Europe.  Meanwhile “Knobble” is the most frequently recorded minke whale in the Hebrides, having been spotted more than 60 times since 2002, mainly around the Isle of Mull.

Our Head Wildlife Guide, Lynsey Bland has confirmed that during 2023 Hebrides Cruises had 107 sightings of minke whale and recorded 155 individual animals across our 3 boats. To her knowledge, we sadly didn't see Snowy or Knobble.  She says we definitely see minke whales on most of our cruises - there is only a handful of cruises throughout the past few seasons where we haven't seen a minke!  Lynsey thinks its hard to say for definite that we are seeing more whales than before.  We may be just more aware of minke whales as we are recording more as a result of the Whale Track app and having expert Wildlife Guides on every cruise.  However she would definitely say that this season was an incredible one for sightings generally. Its also pretty amazing to think that all 3 boats saw humpback whales within a week!  Lynsey is fascinated by some of the minke whale behaviour we have been lucky enough to witness this season.  There have been several instances of lunge feeding  - when the whale consumes a large quantity of prey and water after a high-speed horizontal or vertical motion, followed then by the removal of water through closed-mouth filtration. Lynsey and guests on board were lucky enough to see a breaching whale just north of Ardnamurchan in September that breached over 10 times in a row! Elizabeth G also had an incredible encounter with the minke whale that swam right alongside the vessel

It meant a lot to Hebrides Cruises to read an acknowledgement to Richard Fairbairns in the new HWDT minke whale catalogue. 

‘We’d like to acknowledge the contribution the late Richard Fairbairns has made to our understanding of minke whales in the Sea of the Hebrides. Inspired by a close encounter with a minke whale in 1982, Richard established the Mull Cetacean Project and Sea Life Surveys, the UK’s first whale-watching business, and was instrumental in establishing the Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust in 1994. With the help of his passionate and dedicated crew, Sea Life Surveys diligently recorded their sightings in the waters around Mull, sharing the data with researchers and HWDT’

Our family member and Skipper, James, is the son of Richard, who was a pioneer for the research and protection of marine wildlife, passing his knowledge and passion on to the next generation of his family. Richard and his sons have many photo id minke whale images within the catalogue, as well as our head Wildlife Guide, Lynsey Bland.