Tuesday, 7 August 2007

Whale Tale

I was just getting the paints sorted out for the next section of the picture I’m doing for the RSPB reserve, when the Reserve Manager appeared at the door.
‘There’s a minke whale in the harbour at Fraserburgh.’

What could I do but down tools and go see…..?

You may well have seen this in the national news – young minke whale followed a fishing boat into the harbour and got stuck. (If you were looking closely (hi Sue!!), you may even have seen me on the evening news report, one of the many watchers on the quayside.) I was in two minds about going to see it – these things nearly always end up in tears, and I didn’t want to be a voyeur on a sad tale. On the other hand, I did want to see it – I didn’t believe that it could actually be in the harbour itself. But it was.

Standing on the quay, we watched as the whale circled the harbour pool, coming up to breathe every four minutes or so. It didn’t seem too stressed, though there would be no food for it. There were no ship movements as the big pelagic trawlers were tied up, though this may have confused the sonar picture. Why couldn’t it find the gap and the way out to sea?

One of the gang went off to find out what was happening. Apparently, on the entry to the Balaclava Basin (the bit of the harbour in question), there is a concrete ‘lip’ – at low water there is about 3 metres of water over this, and chances are the whale’s sonar was bouncing back off the lip and making it think there was no way out. To make matters worse, if it got over the lip, the harbour wall was straight ahead, leading off left at an angle towards the open sea, but a sonar picture could well seem to show no exit.

The whale circled. A couple of grey seals wandered in, to see what all the fuss was about – they sometimes get fed from the quayside, so possibly thought their luck was in. They made their way out with no problem, but the whale kept going round and round. I had a real sinking feeling about this. I perched on a set of steps by one of the fish warehouses, and felt slightly sick.

Nothing to be done. High water wasn’t until mid-afternoon, and there would be attempts to lure it out then. So I went back to painting rushes, reeds and reflections, and kept an ear on the news. One of our regulars reported sighting larger whales feeding off Rattray Head.

The first attempt failed. I watched familiar faces crop up on the news reports, explaining the plans to help. The whale started to look weary – the dorsal fin started to droop. I began to think this would go the way of so many recent whale encounters in Britain.

Thankfully, I was wrong.

It took several days and a lot of effort, but as you’ll probably know, the whale escaped safely to sea. What wasn’t on the news was that I paid for my prurient curiosity – in perching on the steps of the warehouse, I got at least ten ant bites. That’ll teach me.


Mackie said...

:crit: evil antses!!!!

like you, i hadn't really believed in a happy ending for this, so it was really good to hear the whale got out of the harbour eventually.

we had a dead whale a few weeks ago, but that had been carried all the way upriver from the north sea, on one of this snout things the big freighters have. still it was sad to imagine the dead whale being pushed upriver for 70 miles or more ...

Tats said...

I felt like you did, Mad - likely to end in tears (especially having been to see the awful spectacle of those sperm whales at Cruden Bay, so many years ago now). So I didn't go - didn't want to take the kids, as Ash, especially, would have taken an unhappy ending very badly. We were delighted to hear the baby got out though - interesting to hear the ideas about the harbour being difficult to get out of by sonar.

I don't remember it being given a name in the press - and thinking how unusual that was!

Mackie - your whale on the bumper story - so sad. Feel so sorry for them in general - harried all over by all these huge ships. Must be like living in a permanent rock concert for the poor beasts as it is, with all the sound we've introduced to the sea.

mad said...


very evil antses!

it was so nice to hear it ended well for once.

You'd think the skipper would have noticed something changing the handling - the flow over the bulb at the front (i tend to think of it as the ram! though it's designed to make the flow over the bow smoother) would have been changed at least.... :crit:

very sad.
you don't know what species, by any chance?

Anonymous said...

I'm so glad this came out well. When you first mentioned the dorsal fin being droopy, I thought, uh-oh. I remember that expression, "fin-flop", from when we had Keiko here in Oregon and they were worried about him.

Yay for the happy ending, this time, But, Boo! to the damn ants!


Girl from Mars said...

I had not read about this whale on the net, happy to see he/she escaped. Earth's a very sad place these days for these majestic animals. Pesky humans.

And the ants were just territorial ;) or mean-spirited ;)

my word is polish I think: hdzkbxk

Sue D said...

Mad - my heart sank when I heard about the whale (although I did get somewhat excited spotting you on tv); and it was so good to hear it was back out at sea.

Sue D said...

I forgot to say - you will post pictures of your RSPB paintings, won't you? Pretty please???

j. said...

we likes happy endings. =)

Mackie said...

Mad, sorry, i hadn't seen your question ... :blush:

i checked, and they say it was a fin whale who was about 16m.