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Ross shire Journal

Friday 22 September, 2006

Sei Whale sighted by Hebridean Whale Cruises

A GROUP of West Coast builders couldn’t believe their eyes – or their luck – when they became the unlikely witnesses to a once-in-a-lifetime sighting of an endangered species.

With photographic evidence of their close encounter with a Sei Whale, which is protected and has only seven confirmed sightings in UK waters since 1999, the men are the envy of wildlife enthusiasts across Ross-shire.

The young mammal, which is believed to have been on its own, was spotted near Loch Ewe in Gairloch – but had it not been for the expert eye of their skipper the significance of what was literally staring them in the face could have passed them by.

The men, most of whom worked for the village-based Les Buchan building contractors, had been on a Saturday afternoon jaunt with Hebridean Whale Cruises run by father and son team Barry and Nick Davies.

As skipper Nick explained, “It has such a distinctive way of feeding, with its mouth open and lower jaw extended while skimming the surface of the water, that as soon as I saw it I immediately knew we had come across something really special,” he said. “I shouted to the men ‘we’ve just come across a rare whale here, lads’.”

Most Sei whales live in the Southern Hemisphere while smaller populations inhabit the North Atlantic and North Pacific.

The visitor to the North’s waters wasn’t exactly camera shy either, circling the boat feeding while the fascinated builders furiously clicked away desperate to capture the spectacular sight before it disappeared beneath the water again.

For Nick it was one of the highlights of the past ten years in the business. “It was absolutely incredible,” he added. “We were all shocked by how close it came, it seemed to have absolutely no fear, or hesitation, about approaching the boat. At one point it went right underneath the bow.”

As soon as they reached land, Nick e-mailed his pictures to Sea Watch Foundation, the national data collection agency for cetacean populations. After an anxious few days he finally received the confirmation he had hoped for on Tuesday.

According to the foundation’s database the last confirmed sighting in the United Kingdom was in the Isle of Man, in June last year.

“It’s probably a regular visitor to UK waters but it’s not something you would expect to see everyday and it’s certainly less common than the fin whale,” data officer Pai Anderwald said.

Nick’s father Barry now hopes the sighting will put Gairloch on the map for wildlife enthusiasts who he feels often dismiss the area.

“It is quite a momentous sighting for Gairloch and perhaps it will make people aware there is a lot to see in this part of the country,” he said. “We are so often bypassed for other places like Mull but perhaps it is now time people stated to acknowledge what we have to offer here.”

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