SAMS news room

Modern-day Moby graces our shores

A sperm whale that arrived in Oban Bay over Easter continues to swim round the harbour and is being closely monitored by experts dedicated to its welfare.

First sighted last Saturday, the sperm whale is thought to be a sub-adult male about 10-12 metres long. Under the coordination of British Divers Marine Life Rescue (BDMLR), experts on whale behaviour, acoustics and rescues from a number of organisations are monitoring the situation.

The whale has drawn crowds daily to the harbour and esplanade in the hope of seeing it as it surfaces, undulates and blows repeatedly, leaving a circular trail before submerging again.

In its latest press release, BDMLR says: “The sperm whale is still in the same area of the bay and is breathing and diving as we would expect and not exhibiting any signs of stress, apart from when the occasional boat gets too close. It is has been observed to dive for around 60 minutes which suggests that it is strong and not weakening as has been reported elsewhere.”

Drs Ben Wilson and Steven Benjamins of the Scottish Association for Marine Science (SAMS) have been working with other acoustic specialists from the Sea Mammal Research Unit (SMRU) at the University of St Andrews to analyse a recording of the whale’s activity picked up by hydrophone. While no foraging sounds were heard in its vocalisation this may not be a problem as whales gain nutrients and fluids via the breakdown of blubber if they are not feeding. The acoustic analysis also revealed that the animal is echolocating at the surface, which although unusual for undisturbed foraging sperm whales in the open ocean, may be an indication that this one is aware of its harbour surroundings and the boats close to it.

The team of experts has been discussing options for the whale and to date agree that non-intervention remains the best policy as it seems to be becoming accustomed to its situation. The team fear that interference could result in the whale stranding or heading north in to Loch Linnhe. Either event is likely to end badly. For now the team continues to hope the whale will soon swim southwards down Kerrera Sound, in to deeper water and on to the open sea.

A BDMLR spokesman said that there seem to be rope marks on the whale’s dorsal hump. Although only speculation, he said it was possible that the whale had previously freed itself from an entanglement and was resting in the harbour to gain strength before returning to the ocean.

The Coastguard has issued a warning to shipping in the area and in its press release the BDMLR have appealed to boat users to keep their distance: “We are asking boat owners to please stay away from the animal as any movement close to it may stop it from resting or diving in its own time. Close activity may cause it to stress and become unpredictable and such a large animal could easily hurt itself and boats. The local Police Wildlife Crime Unit and SSPCA are also concerned and will be watching out for irresponsible activity, which should be reported to the local Oban police.”

Information and image courtesy of BDMLR.

Links to individuals and organisations involved:

Dr Ben Wilson

Dr Steven Benjamins


British Divers Marine Life Rescue

Sea Mammal Research Unit

Scottish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals

Scottish Natural Heritage

Humane Society International

Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society


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