Orkney adventures

BY SDC Volunteer Ruby

In May I attended the Orkney Nature Festival along with SDC staff Katie, Lorna and Emma. It was my first time visiting Orkney and I was so excited to see it, and hopeful for sightings of Risso’s dolphins and Orca. On the ferry over I was blown away by the views of the towering cliffs of Hoy and the iconic Old Man of Hoy surrounded by Fulmars. We arrived at our accommodation in Stromness and caught up with Emma, the Shorewatch coordinator for the Northern Isles, and prepared for the next 3 days.

The Nature Festival happens annually and gives people the opportunity to enjoy and be inspired by Orkneys incredible wildlife. We took Hope, the inflatable humpback whale, on her first visit to Orkney and astounded around 600 people with her size as she dominated the gym hall at Kirkwall Grammar School.

For the first 2 days we had secondary and primary school pupils visiting. Many of the schools came from the outer isles and some students even travelled by plane just to see Hope. We talked to pupils about marine mammal biology, having them guess which animal matched which item from our collection of bones. It was great for me to hear from the children how they have seen whales and dolphins around Orkney, many young kids have had multiple encounters with Orca already which made me very envious!

On the third day the school was open to the public, people of all ages were intrigued and surprised to learn about the types of whales and dolphins that they can see around the UK’s coastline. In a massive coincidence, during our trip a humpback whale was spotted in Scapa Flow, and many people were shocked to learn that humpback whales can be seen so close to home.

Our trip also coincided with a curious event involving Risso’s dolphins. Two Risso’s dolphins were being continuously seen at one of the causeways which joins the islands close to the mainland. The Risso’s were exhibiting strange behaviour of travelling back and forth in the same location. They were being monitored constantly by members of British Divers for Marine Life Rescue. Unfortunately, one was in very poor condition and ended up stranding. It was ultimately euthanized on welfare grounds. It had been a dream of mine to see Risso’s dolphins while on Orkney, and it was an amazing experience to witness them so close even though these were sad circumstances.

I had an incredible time in Orkney, swimming in the sea and looking out from high headlands over the vast ocean surrounding the islands. I was sad to be catching the ferry home but that feeling was quickly squashed when we were accompanied by two Risso’s dolphins and a Minke whale. I hope to be back soon!