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.