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Latest News

Minke whale trapped in Fraserburgh harbour

Minke whale trapped in Fraserburgh harbour

At 19:00 hrs on 1st August, the CRRU team were called out to a young minke whale that had been reported swimming in the harbour in the commercial fishing town of Fraserburgh, at the eastern end of the southern Moray Firth in Aberdeenshire. The scientific team - comprising of Nina Baumgartner, Gary Haskins, Helen Mitcheson, CRO Dale Edmondson and seven international volunteers - loaded the CRRU Ambulance and trailer and headed off to the scene to liaise with the local authorities who had become concerned for the welfare of the animal in this busy fishing port. Once there, the team immediately set to task by recording the diving and swimming behaviour of the whale, to get a better assessment of the situation and to determine whether the animal was showing any immediate signs of distress. The young rorqual whale, estimated at approximately 5 meters in length, was quickly established to be a juvenile of about 6-8 months of age (North Atlantic minkes are known to give birth from Dec to Jan) and therefore clearly independent of its mother. Encouragingly, she was assessed to be in good physical condition.

Understandingly, however, the harbour master was very concerned that the whale was a potential shipping hazard, and it was clear that appropriate precautions and measurements to coerce the animal out of the harbour area would have to be made. With the assistance from a local fisherman, Bruce Buchan, the CRRU research team were able to take to the water for a closer inspection of the animal, and a gentle attempt was made to approach the whale to gauge its reaction to the vessel. However, the minke had other plans, and was showing no interest in leaving the harbour, and even attempted to interact with the boat! With the light fading, the team realized they needed to give the whale the opportunity to leave of its own free will, and so a decision was made to stand down for the night and see whether she was still in the harbour in the morning. Meanwhile, local interest in this spectacle had heightened, and members of the public had flocked to the scene. The CRRU team spoke with local members from the Fraserburgh British Divers Marine Life Rescue (BDMLR) team, also in attendance, and it was decided to reconvene the following morning with all parties to reassess the situation and form a new plan of action.

Over the next day, the CRRU team engaged in lengthy phone discussions with other scientists from international organisations in Scotland, Canada and Australia, as well as several other UK leading experts on minke whales (other than our own very experienced minke whale research team), who agreed that the best plan of action (if the whale was not planning to leave of its own will) would be to coax it out of the harbour with a directed flotilla of small boats.

On Thurs 2nd, with boat traffic in the harbour likely to increase in the coming days, the CRRU, BDMLR volunteers and colleagues from WDCS worked together to formulate a plan to discourage the whale from its new harbour residence. We had initially hoped to get three boats to try and coax the whale out through the narrow harbour entrance, but were delighted when we were told that eight boats were willing to help, including the RNLI lifeboat and several local fishermen, a powerboat owner and the harbour pilot boat, as well as our very own Orca II. Each vessel was crewed by a skipper and an accompanying crew member of an animal welfare charity, with the CRRU's researchers each occupying a separate boat to instruct the concerted effort which was being orchestrated by resident minke whale expert Nina from aboard the pilot boat. However, despite the very best efforts of Nina and her assisting teams, the whale did not return to the open sea on Thursday.

Once again, it was decided that enough was enough for another day, and the rescuers agreed to meet the following day for a further concerted attempt. Thankfully the perseverance of the teams on Friday finally paid off, and the young whale found its way back out of the harbour mouth to the open sea beyond to the great relief and cheers of all those who had participated in the effort. Even after this ordeal, the whale seemed to totally aloof to the whole incident and the worry and commotion she had single-handedly caused, and simply sauntered off calmly back to the open waters without so much as a glance backwards.

All in all, a very interesting three days with lots of hindsight and head-scratching on reflection, but a really great example showcasing the abilities of local animal welfare groups in this area of northeast Scotland to work successfully together.

The CRRU would like to thank the multitude of people and authorities for their ever-present and ongoing support. We were truly overwhelmed by the support and enthusiasm of the local people of Fraserburgh for the safe return of this young whale, but we would especially like to thank Albert and his team from Fraserburgh harbour authority, Grampian Police, the RNLI, local fisherman (Bruce Buchan and others - thank you!) and last, but not least, our colleagues from BDMLR (Andy, Stacy, Tim and others), especially for their efforts on the Fri, and WDCS (Alice, Marcus and Hannah). Thank you.

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