British Divers Marine Life Rescue
British Divers Marine Life Rescue (photo: Steve Marsh)
British Divers Marine Rescue


2013-04-08 08:15:00

Sperm Whale leaves Oban - No sightings since

(Please see at bottom for latest update on npo sightings of the whale)

A sperm whale that has appeared in Oban has been drawing crowds over the Easter Bank Holiday.

British Divers Marine Life Rescue are monitoring the situation and advising boat owners to stay away from the animal.

The appearance of the sperm whale, thought to be a sub-adult male measuring between 10 and 12 metres, was reported to British Divers Marine Life Rescue on Saturday by the Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust.

There had been sightings of sperm whales mid-February between Loch Torridon and South Rona and in recent years off the coast of North West Scotland but it is unusual for one to come this close to the coast.

The whale has been observed logging, or resting, on the surface for long periods and has been diving for up to 30 minutes at a time. The longest recorded dive for a sperm whale is over 90 minutes.

The animal has swum southwards down the Kerrara Sound on a few occasions but has returned to Oban harbour. Had it continued south, it would reach deeper water and hopefully make its way out to open sea, but whilst in Oban it is feared that it may turn North and end up in Loch Linnhe.

The coastguard has issued a warning to shipping in the area to take care and most are doing that, but recreational craft have been observed today within metres of the whale. Whilst this is illegal as the skippers are technically recklessly disturbing the whale, they may cause the whale to become stressed and unpredictable and endanger themselves.

BDMLR has a team on hand in Oban and is in touch with the Coastguard and locals whilst monitoring the whale's behaviour. No decision has been taken yet to try and encourage it to move southwards but this will be reviewed this week.

Update 3.4.13

Unfortunately the whale is still in the vicinity and has been moving steadily with the tides, seemingly moving southwards at high water and back towards the harbour at low tide. Thankfully the majority of boat owners have responded positively to requests not to go out to the whale, so it appears not to be stressed.

Our teams continue to monitor its condition and unless it shows signs of agitation, non-intervention is the order of the day.

A boat with staff from Scottish Natural Heritage will be out on the water today and SNH will be sharing their observations with us in due course.

Update 4.4.13

Still in the same area of the bay, the sperm whale is breathing and diving as we would expect and not exhibiting any signs of stress, apart from when the occasional boat gets too close.  It is has been observed to dive for around 60 minutes which suggests that it is strong and not weakening as has been reported elsewhere.

Experts on whale behaviour, acoustics and rescues from a number of organisations including BDMLR, SSPCA, SAMS, HSI, WDC, SRUC SMASS, MARC and SMRU have been discussing options for the whale and it is generally agreed that non-intervention is still the best policy as it seems to be becoming accustomed to its situation.

A hydrophone was able to pick up a short recording of the whale's activity and a recognised acoustics expert from SMRU at St Andrews has analysed the recording.  No foraging sounds were heard in its vocalisation but this may not be a problem as whales will gain nutrients and fluids via the breakdown of blubber if they are not feeding.  The animal was echolocating at the surface, which is unusual for undisturbed foraging sperm whales in the open ocean, but may be an indication that this one is well aware of its surroundings and the boats close to it.

Again, we are asking boat owners to please stay away from the animal as any movement close to it may stop it from resting or diving in its own time. Close activity may cause it to stress and become unpredictable and such a large animal could easily hurt itself and boats. The local Police Wildlife Crime Unit and SSPCA are also concerned and will be watching out for irresponsible activity, which should be reported to the local Oban police.

Update 08.04.13 - 09.00hrs

Reports from Oban yesterday from our volunteers on site confirm that the sperm whale has been behaving relatively normally for a healthy and unstressed animal.  Following a request from BDMLR, the fisheries protection vessel Minna has moved into the bay and is ensuring that boat traffic is kep to a minimum and that boats are dissuaded from moving close to the animal.

The latest acoustic recordings suggest that whale may be feeding, which is a good sign.

We continue to be on site to monitor the activity of the whale.

Update 09.04.13 - 07.30hrs

Yesterday, Monday 8th April at approximately 16.00hrs, the whale headed out of Oban harbour, heading initially towards Maiden Island and Lismore.  It then headed wouthwards 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 justnscraped the outer skin.  Sperm whales often sport many scars and their skin heals well in the ocean.

Although the sperm whale is out of the immediate danger of Oban harbour, BDMLR and observers from other organisations remain on the alert for future sightings.

BDMLR would again like to thank all the organisations, individuals and the people of Oban and the surrounding area for their assistance and understanding during the whale's visit.

For an article on the BBC news site, please click here.

Update 11.04.13 - 08.15hrs

BDMLR can report that there were no sightings of the sperm whale yesterday.  Whilst this is not conclusive evidence that the whale has left the area, it is hoped that this is an indication that it has entered deeper water and gone out to the open sea.

Observers yesterday searched the Firth of Lorn, the entirety of Loch Linnhe, the Sound of Mull, the approaches around Oban and the Minch between Mull and the Outer Hebrides until dusk and no sightings were reported.


For information, on Wednesday night at 8pm on BBC2, BBC Coast will feature a programme on the work of BDMLR that was filmed at a mass stranding exercise in Devon last year. The charity runs courses for the public who wish to train as BDMLR Marine Mammal Medics and is a course planned near Oban for July 6th 2013 as well as many others around the UK. Details can be found here.


Stephen Marsh
BDMLR Operations Manager

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