It was set up to be a great last full day on our “Skye and the Small Isles Explorer” 6-night cruise. Calm seas lay in front of us on our route to Tobermory from our anchorage at the Isle of Eigg. This patch of sea is famous for its abundance of wildlife. Already at the start of our crossing we sighted several harbour porpoises and east of Muck a small pod of common dolphins took advantage of our powerful wake for a bit of bow riding. Knowing that the waters north of the Cairns of Coll tend to attract Minke whales, we decided on a short detour.
The calm seas provided excellent viewing conditions and already at a distance of a mile, we could see rafts of Manx shearwaters which is a good indicator that there is feeding going on underneath the surface. As we crept closer, I spotted a dark back breaking the surface about 300 meters off our bow – dorsal fin placed two thirds down the back meant that this is not a dolphin even though it is not much larger than a bottlenose dolphin. “Minke whale”, I called and pointed in which direction to watch. Several minutes passed without anything surfacing. Then suddenly it reappeared and disappeared again. After another couple of minutes, I hear Pip, the cook, shouting “It’s here, it’s here!” – the whale surfaced right next to our port side and then dived again.
From top deck I could see the white marking on its pectoral fins as the whale glided underneath the surface and dived under the ship and then resurfacing only about three meters off our starboard side. Camera shutters clicked and people cheered as this small juvenile Minke whale kept exploring the hull, doing several dives underneath the ship. Maybe our white stabilisers projecting out the sides make us look a bit like its mother? After fifteen minutes, the Minke seemed to have lost interest as we watched surface in the distance so we resumed our track to Tobermory. Some of the guests where so overwhelmed by the experience that I watched them drying their tears. But little did they know the little whale would reappear a little later for a second inspection.
It is hard not to start reading in human emotions into the behaviour of whales and dolphins. It would not have been long since this juvenile was left by its mother to fend for itself. Maybe it was lonely? We left feeling thankful to this remarkable little whale for giving us an experience of a lifetime. This was the closest a Minke has ever come to Elizabeth G.
Back in Tobermory, as we sat in the wheelhouse with a cup of tea recollecting the day, I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw a bottlenose dolphin surface in the wake of a yacht only five meters off the pontoons. Am I going mad? No, there it is again! The bottlenose dolphins are in Tobermory Bay! We watched as 6 of these big, acrobatic animals cruised in and out between moored boats, some of them even doing full body leaps out of the water. Then, as quickly as they appeared, they disappeared back into the sound. I feel blessed that some places are still wild and full of fantastic wildlife, with the wild waters of the Hebrides standing out as one of the best in its league!
Vivi Bolin, Wildlife Guide
“We had The BEST holiday ever. The trip , weather, food, scenery, the crew, everything was superb”.
Alan Avery & Jenny Thurston, Skye and the Small Isles Explorer 6-night cruise, July 4th 2015