Outer Hebrides Wildlife Photography – An unforgettable encounter

Wildlife Photography in the Outer Hebrides

I’ve been overwhelmed with the ‘likes’ I’ve had for my previous blogs about my wildlife photography trip to the Outer Hebrides, thanks guys ‘n’ gals. The Outer Hebrides is a chain of islands off the West Coast of Scotland and a haven for any wildlife photographer.

Pattern on the side of a Minke Whale (Balaenoptera acutorostrata), North Uist
Pattern on the side of a Minke Whale (Balaenoptera acutorostrata), North Uist

A Sad Encounter

This particular blog has a sombre feel to it. My amazing week on North Uist was drawing to a close, I’d seen and photographed some fantastic wildlife. Even in the short space of a week had grown very fond of this windswept group of islands. The weather had recently taken a turn for the worse. The wind was rolling the clouds over from the West and it felt like a storm was brewing. The group felt that a walk to Balranald beach was in order. Maybe it would possible to see if any Skua’s would be pushed in close to the headland by the wind.

As I approached the top of the dune system, I could see Dave ahead frantically waving his arms. I thought to myself  ‘slight over reaction to seeing a Skua!’ but hey Dave likes his birds. What I saw next is probably the most surreal wildlife moment I’ve had to date. One of those moments when your brain is expecting to see one thing but your eyes see another. At this moment of realisation your head just explodes. A Minke Whale was thrashing in the shallows, probably no more than 30ft out in the bay. There was no one else around, just Dave, Matt, Ferne and myself.

Juvenile Minke Whale (Balaenoptera acutorostrata) struggling in shallow water.
Juvenile Minke Whale (Balaenoptera acutorostrata) struggling in shallow water.

Feeling Helpless

What could we do? The honest answer is nothing! All we could do was watch helplessly as this incredibly brave young Whale fought for his life. On my list of species to get a fleeting glimpse of on the trip was a Minke but I never expected to see one in this scenario. I have to say it was incredible to witness, exhilarating, shouting at him and wishing him out to sea. I can still hear the thrashing of its fluke as he used all the energy he still possessed.

Minke Whale (Balaenoptera acutorostrata) as she thrashes for survival.
Minke Whale (Balaenoptera acutorostrata) as he thrashes for survival.

We’d already made a few phone calls to different organisations to see if there was anything that could be done. The problem was our location, we were remote to say the least. Ferne had already got her wetsuit on, she wanted to get in and help. We all did! Thankfully we all agreed that that would be too dangerous. All it would take would be for the 5 tonne Whale to roll and trap one of us and it would be all over.

Ferne just wanted to get in the water and help.
Ferne just wanted to get in the water and help.

Being photographers we did the only thing we could, we tried to document the plight of the Whale, so others could see what we’d witnessed.

Juvenile Minke Whale (Balaenoptera acutorostrata) fighting in shallow water.
Juvenile Minke Whale (Balaenoptera acutorostrata) fighting in shallow water.

Fading Hope

There was one point when we all thought that he had managed to make it out into deep enough water. There’s no doubt in fact that he was able to swim but within 30 seconds of our elation it was clear that all was not well. The Whale was obviously so weak, the lactic acid builds up so quickly in their muscles that he was unable to fight the strength of the tide.

The final fight of the Minke Whale (Balaenoptera acutorostrata)
The final fight of the Minke Whale (Balaenoptera acutorostrata)

We seemed to watch the final battle of the Whale for hours. In fact it probably took less than 10 minutes to reach its final resting place on the beach after its brief attempt at survival.

It was all over for the Minke Whale (Balaenoptera acutorostrata)
It was all over for the Minke Whale (Balaenoptera acutorostrata)

After the exhilaration  of  wishing the Whale back out to sea and seeing it end in such a sad fashion, there was a massive emotional come down. We all just stood around and looked at each other. It was one of those moments you’ll never forget. How easily such a powerful creature can be overpowered my mother nature.

We went back to the cottage to gather out thoughts and have a bit of a chill out. We needed to return when the tide had gone out as we wanted to secure the Whale for the University team that we arriving from Inverness the following day. They could try and determine what had caused the Whale to come into the bay.

Final Resting Place

The scene when we came back to the beach was again an emotional one. There he lay on the sand, almost lost in the grand vista of Balranald.

Her final resting place.
His final resting place.

Everything seemed so much calmer now and I wanted to take a final image of the Whale that showed his final resting place with an air of drama. I wanted the picture to tell the story, the battle scars, the struggle and Mother nature.

The final image of the Minke Whale
The final image of the Minke Whale

A Memorable but Sad Photography Occasion

So in closing it was the most memorable wildlife photography session I’ve had so far. I do hope you’ve liked the blog even though the subject matter is rather sad. Maybe with the results from the post-mortem they can further their knowledge about these fantastic mammals.

If you would like to find out more about my own wildlife photography, please visit my website Images of Nature. If you would like more information about my company, please visit the Vivid Photo Visual website.

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