Complete lack of respect (Cecilia James)

Once again Shetland has had the wonderful privilege of a visit from a small pod of killer whales.

The orcas were swimming quite close inshore in a bay near Levenwick on Saturday afternoon. I was travelling along the main road south in a bus on an outing with members of the Shetland Horticultural Society, en route to see some inspiring gardens.

As we passed by our attention was drawn to a bevy of sightseers and photographers, grouped in a lay-by above the bay, with their lenses trained on the sea. These people were in no way causing any disturbance to the orcas.

However, the same cannot be said for the yacht which was circling the mammals continuously for a long time. Round and round the yacht steered, following the whales closely as they surfaced and dived.

The boat remained just feet away from the whales causing them, I’m sure, quite a lot of unnecessary stress, as the orcas were presumably trying to feed.

And, I ask, for what purpose was this intrusion? Was it to take a spectacular photograph which could be sent round the world via the web and earn the photographer a large amount of money? Or perhaps to emulate the false “bravado” of presenters on TV who like to be filmed taking “risks” with “dangerous” creatures?

On whale-watching holidays abroad, I believe the more respectful, and legal, distance from which people may view whales in the wild is on a boat positioned at least 20 metres away.

Whatever the intent, I deplore these people’s actions. It displayed their ignorance and complete lack of respect for the orcas.

They were fortunate that these whales were benign. Such risk taking and threatening behaviour towards wildlife, particularly when I believe there were also children aboard the yacht, was insensitive and foolhardy.

I wonder what would have happened had the pod become agitated and decided to capsize the yacht. It’s disappointing to think that some of the next generation is being taught that it is acceptable to harass wild creatures in their natural habitat.

Cecilia James


Add Your Comment
  • donna truman

    • July 30th, 2013 17:54

    agree I had a lovely time watching from the bank no need to stress the orcas

  • Ali Inkster

    • July 30th, 2013 20:24

    From my own experience with whales around these isles over the years, they are just as curious about us as we are about them. And if they viewed the boat as a threat would easily just swum away or sunk it. We have lived alongside these magnificent creatures all our lives quite happily interacting whenever we are lucky enough to do so. We don’t need self righteous indignation and rules thought up by folks sitting at city desks hundreds of miles away to tell us how to behave in our natural habitat.

  • Jean Livingstone

    • July 31st, 2013 5:19

    I totaly agree with Cecilia James, in regards to the insensitive action of these people in the Yacht. No thought for the safety of his family on board or for the Orca Whales, which at any point of time could have up turned their Yacht, why can’t they just admire from a safe distance both to the Whales and themselves, just glory seeking, as to getting pictures, people need to take more care after all these are Wild Creatures

  • Emma hatch

    • July 31st, 2013 10:56

    is this kind of negative attitude really necessary? I know the family involved and I know for a fact they would never have took their children out there had they believed that they would be putting themselves or their children in danger. don’t pretend that if you had had the same opportunity to go out on that boat with them you wouldn’t have bitten their hand off!

  • Joe Johnson

    • July 31st, 2013 12:20

    Well said Emma, I don’t see what all the fuss is about. True if I was in a boat near a pod of killer whales I would want to have a closer look. Nothing wrong with that.

  • Robin Barclay

    • July 31st, 2013 13:26

    I totally agree that we don’t need this self-righteous attitude in the negative comment above – the whales could easily avoid this small yacht which I have watched from Hoswick over the last few weeks as it pottered about “da weeks”, and were probably just as curious about it as the crew were about them. It is probably stable enough to be safe in their presence, but I think going in amongst them in a kayak is more than a bit risky since they could easily take the occupant if they chose. If someone was buzzing around the whales in some kind of power boat I would censure that, but a single slow moving small yacht or rowing boat? Come on – who wouldn’t take such an opportunity? I have often been surrounded by porpoises (not lately) in those same waters, and they approached me, not I them. These whales were probably just browsing for seals, which they have often taken around here. The very first killer whales I recall seeing were encountered in Mousa Sound near Noness in 1966 when I and other then teenage friends were returning from Mousa to Broonie’s Taing in a couple of yoals (with outboards) – and at first we thought they were dolphins until they approached the boats and we saw how large they were. I think killer whales were uncommon before then, but are certainly common now – but it is still a thrill to see them. It is a pity that porpoises seem much rarer now than when I was younger – they would often approach yoals – and I wonder if they have been predated by the killer whales. I recall large (thersher?) shark approaching yoals around Sandwick in the 1950/60’s (they used to say you shouldn’t paint the bottom of your boat white or it would attract them) – but they are seldom seen these days (maybe since they began to be “sport” fished off Sumburgh?).
    I often sail off Scotland’s west coast, and we commonly see Minkie whales there – and we make no effort to avoid them since they are well aware of our presence and can choose whether to approach us or not. We have approached basking shark off Rum just to get a close look (very impressive). Dolphins frequently choose to play around the yacht and delight in riding our bow wave. I doubt that in this case (in “da Hos’ick weeks”) there was any stress at all to the whales – and probably quite a lot of stimulation. From what I saw on the BBC Scotland report last night (unfortunately I am now back on the mainland, so missed this) the whales put on quite a display for their audience on the yacht – it looked a lot like mutual appreciation to me.

  • David Spence

    • August 1st, 2013 0:49

    Ali Inkster says ‘ don’t tell us how to behave in our natural habitat. ‘

    Ali, I find that statement rather disturbingly amusing since we, human beings, are doing everything in our selfish, greed orientated, materialistic, money grabbing behaviour to destroy the very environment and ‘ natural habitat ‘ you speak of. All in the name of our, well, those people who put monetary value ahead of anything else, selfish, self-centered own needs regardless to what eco-systems we destroy or what ‘ natural ‘ animals we kill as long as we get richer in the process.

    Then again though, your average capitalist doesn’t give a damn when it comes to making ‘ the quick buck ‘ and the damage they cause along as, as they see it, number 1 is alright.

    Ali, you may be the exception to the rule in how you run your business, and if this is the case, it is very sad indeed that in the wider scheme of things, larger businesses do not take a leaf out of the smaller businesses and care more about the environment and wildlife instead of how fast can we make massive profits.

    As said previously, when money becomes the most important factor in certain aspects of our society, this brings on the more negative and darker side of human nature, where profit and greed prevail regardless to the environment damage and the unjustified killing and butchering of our wildlife and their habitat’s.

  • david john anderson

    • August 2nd, 2013 11:24

    All this folk complaining about being too close too those whales are obviously not used with being out in a boat near them. These and other types of whales regularly come within touching distance of boats. If they were at all stressed as she thinks they were, they would move on. I’m sure a killer whale would outrun a slow yacht. Get over it. I would think the killers were more interested in the family in the boat or they would have simply moved away.
    Folk nowadays are getting far too high and mighty and away from the real world. Let the folk have their fun seeing what is likely a once in a lifetime thing for them, Bet they had a “whale of a time” sorry! I know i wouldn’t have left the sight, because i know when the whales are bored or scared they will move on.

  • Joe Johnson

    • August 6th, 2013 15:44

    Just seen a video of the yacht sailing close to the whales on the BBC news website. The family in the yacht were in no way getting in the way of the whales or distressing them. The whales were just playing and curious about the family in the yacht. No harm done whatsoever.

  • Robert Sinclair Shand

    • August 6th, 2013 19:43

    An Orca smashed a family yacht 2000 miles from the Canary Island’s which sank in about two minutes so never get clever with dolphins/whales/sharks. A Basking Shark is believed to have smashed a small fishing boat in the Clyde Estuary about the late 1960’s drowning its owner. If you see such large sea creatures let them come to you and parallel them at a distance. I’ve witnessed Orcas tail lashing furiously when a local lobster-boat headed in amongst them.

  • David Spence

    • August 7th, 2013 3:30

    When it comes to nature, human’s always think they know better…….hence the massive destruction of the environment, eco-systems, causing the fastest known extinction of animals every recorded (at the present rate, around 1 species every 3 days…by the year 2050 over 30% of all mammals will be extinct due to human activity) changing the climate etc etc all in the name of capitalism, greed, monetary and material values…………but who cares as long as money dictates our morality and behaviour.

    The sooner nature wipes out humanity (which it will very soon……with any luck) the better it will be for the planet…… will continue as it has for 3.8 billion years without humans interfering, and it will do so long after nature has eradicated the worst species ever to inhabit this planet.

    As the modern version of the old film ‘ The Day the Earth Stood Still ‘ and Keanu Reeves (as the Alien) says

    ‘ I didn’t come here to save you from the Planet. I came to save the Planet from you. If you live, the Earth Dies. If you die (humans) the Earth lives. ‘

    Never a truer word said.

  • ian tinkler

    • August 7th, 2013 9:30

    Orcas are just large predatory carnivores. Fortunately they do not regard humans as prey, but they are not gentle playthings. Observe from a distance and do not disturb, like any large animal if provoked they may react with aggression, especially if ill or a sexually dominant male protecting females, females with young may also be aggressive. Whale attack on boats is not unknown, usually mistaking the hull of a boat as another competitive whale. These large creatures should be left alone and observed with respect from a reasonable distance.


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