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In his new outdoors column, Mullman Daniel Brooks shares a close encounter with legendary orcas John Coe and Aquarius.
Daniel is a wildlife guide, adventure seeker, conservation campaigner, forager, bushcrafter, rewilder and father of four. His website mullman.co.uk is coming soon.
I had just dropped my wife Deborah and our niece off at the ferry in Craignure when I got a surprise call from my friend James Marshall who skippers the Sea Life Surveys whale and dolphin boat trips.
‘The Boys’, he said – living legends John Coe and Aquarius thought by many to be the last remaining killer whales of the resident west coast community, and indeed their own unique eco type, were a few miles off Ardnamurchan just milling around, ‘NOW!’
I drove up to Calliach Point in the North-West of Mull via our house at Ulva Ferry to pick up my scope and stopped to tell the exciting news to anyone and everyone who even remotely looked like they might be into wildlife.
I love to share my passion of nature…especially a sighting so close of The Boys. I am glad I did, because some of those folk did turn up at Calliach and their dreams, too, were fulfilled, as were mine, this wonderful day.
I arrived at Calliach to find Rachel from NatureScotland already there scanning the foggy seas. Coll and Ardnamurchan were largely obscured by the misty conditions making spotting them difficult to near impossible. After a quick, fruitless search, I called my mate in Tobermory to tell him to get out in his newly-acquired sail boat to see them. He said he would wait for me, so I shot off again, fastening my kids Hazel and Oak back into the car and headed to him.
We were soon tootling out of the bay, past the lighthouse and Ardmore, and out towards the area where they had last been seen, swinging by a local fishing boat to ask if they had heard of their last whereabouts.
They pointed and said, ‘right out there,’ so that’s where we went, eyes to the binoculars scanning the mirror calm seas the whole time. We were looking for boats, because we knew there had been a couple of other boats watching them. At first we could only see fishing boats, and then we spotted two smaller boats out towards the Cairns of Coll. They were still, as if watching something, although as we crept closer we could not see any six foot dorsal fins rising near them.
My mate Derick suddenly said: ‘there, got them, Orca.’ They were off to the left but I quickly picked them up – they were surprisingly close, perhaps 1km away. It amazed us that we had not seen them sooner. They were heading right for us!
We slowed down and waited for them to come to us. After several minutes, they surfaced again, just a hundred meters or so ahead of us, splashing around, tail lobbing, rolling in the water waving their pectorals in the air, Aquarius even spy hopped, popping his head vertically right out of the water so we could see his eye! This was my 30-odd-year dream come true. I was up close and personal with these living legends. They came even closer, passing within 30m of the boat. In these glassy conditions I could even see John Coe swimming underwater as he passed by. Hazel and Oak were both shrieking with excitement every time the Orcas surfaced, making that loud puffing noise as they blew.
We had the most magical encounter with these awesome animals. One we will all treasure for the rest of our lives.
If you go watching for whales and dolphins, please make sure you follow the guidelines. Be respectful and aware of their plight, then hopefully they will continue to fulfill our dreams for many generations to come.
For top tips to wildlife watching visit www.hwdt.org/news/2020/8/top-tips?