“Not what we were expecting when we woke up yesterday morning……A BELUGA !!! a high Arctic marine mammal in the sub-zero winter wonderland Shetland is currently experiencing, to get to the site was hard enough, but worth every freezing moment for a once in a lifetime wildlife sighting”
A stunning ivory white BELUGA whale was spotted off West Ayre in Hillswick yesterday morning by Margaret and Jeff Tungatt who contacted the admin of the local Cetacean WhatsApp page with the sighting, then made public mid-morning. Phil, Ayda (8) & I tried to head out north but the weather with pure arctic conditions, thick snow & drift made our plans impossible & we turned back. However around 1pm, the weather improved & we again set of north in our 4×4. We made a diversion to pick up good friend & ace cameraman & drone photographer Richard Shucksmith & made it to West Ayre, Hillswick about an hour before dark. The sea was very dark & skies ominous as we scanned the bay, & almost immediately picked up the incredible sight of a ghostly ivory white large BELUGA, regularly surfacing & clearly visible at distance contrasting against the dark water. The large, active animal appeared healthy, feeding & regularly diving for a few minutes at a time, we could even follow it’s white shape below the surface. Beluga apparently feed on various fish species as well as crabs, octopus, squid & snails & this one could be seen up-ending to feed on a couple of occasions.
Richard captured breath-taking drone footage of this rare Arctic & Sub-Arctic marine mammal (seriously doesn’t get better than that please check it out!! LINK here: https://fb.watch/pEVp-PJU8G/ & it was hugely exciting for all four of us to not only watch the animal surfacing & see it’s iconic ‘melon-head’ shape & beautiful tail shape at distance, but also enjoy it ‘live’ via Richard’s drone camera. I got some distant record shots & a nice little video which serves as a perfect memory of Shetland’s 6th BELUGA. It was a very special moment for all of us at Shetland Seabird Tours – The Noss Boat, & one we will remember for years to come. Rebecca has previously seen Beluga in Spitsbergen whilst guiding there is 2012 but it was a world cetacean tick for everyone else. It is still present today 18th January 2024 & we hope if the weather improves many others will get to enjoy seeing they spectacular, iconic Arctic species as the weather improves. It is difficult to know exactly why the Beluga is here in Shetland waters, along with the 5 other Beluga records, we have also had Bearded Seals & Walrus on the Isles of the the last few years. These are all high arctic species & we must consider that these rare but increasing sightings are highly likely the result of climate change & the aptly named climate catastrophe we are faced with today. The strong northerly storms & arctic weather front we have been experiencing of late, may also have caused the Hillswick Beluga to have become disorientated & separated from it’s pod, & of course although it looks healthy, we never really know if there are more serious individual, internal health issues at play. We hope it will feed well whilst here & be able to make it’s way back further north as soon as possible.