Britain's whale and dolphin watching industry now extends to almost every
part of the country, and is very much part of mainstream tourism. Tens of
thousands of people go whale and dolphin watching in British waters every
year, utilising commercial operators, ferries and land-based viewpoints.
This guide will appeal to general tourists as well as keen whale watchers
and naturalists, encouraging more people than ever before to go whale and
dolphin watching in Britain.
Dylan describes some great British whale watching
Anybody that has had a close encounter with one of the world's big
predators will have experienced a feeling of overwhelming primeval fear and
awe. Big cats, wolves, bears, and sharks are animals that command our
greatest respect as powerful and accomplished hunters.
You would think that we are safe from such emotions in Britain. By 1700 we
had eradicated both Wolves and Brown Bears from the British countryside,
and our biggest shark, the Basking Shark, eats only plankton. Imagine my
surprise then, when on one fateful June day, whilst visiting the magical
Shetland Islands in the far north of Scotland, I came face to face with an
animal that weighs in at over nine tonnes - the equivalent of a small tank,
and bares a set of ferocious teeth. I found myself frozen to the spot with
my stomach in knots and my eyes watering. Two enormous bull Killer Whales
were heading straight for me!
These Killer Whales (otherwise known as Orcas) were moving quickly. Their
enormous dorsal fins - as high as a door and shaped like a sail - knifed
through the water effortlessly. Their heads launched through the waves to
reveal ominous, dinner-plate-sized white eye patches. Finally, their broad
backs rolled forward, all rippling muscle and hydrodynamic efficiency. Both
animals were swimming directly towards me at speed, halving the distance
between us from 600m to 300m, and then from 100m to 50m. My heart was
racing, my hands were shaking, and my spine was tingling. How close would
they come? When would they alter course?
Finally, just 10m away, they swept to the right, turning broadside whilst
emitting high misty blows that hung in the air in front of me. As they left
the scene I realised that I had forgotten to keep breathing, and
immediately took a sharp intake of air. I knew it was one of the most
incredible wildlife experiences of my life. Not only had I encountered the
most powerful predator in the ocean from our shores, I hadn't even left the
shore to do it!
With both feet firmly planted on dry land, I couldn't have been safer, and
yet I had almost been within touching distance of these magnificent and
intelligent mammals. I sat back on the rocks to gather my thoughts, but as
I looked out to sea, I realised that the Killer Whales were back. In an
astonishing display they made encircling movements in the shallows for the
next ten minutes, often turning on their sides to flash their white bellies
through the water. In time, I realised what they were up to. Shetland's
rocky coastline is inhabited by large numbers of Common and Grey Seals.
Each summer, small groups of Killer Whales return to the islands to prey
upon these seals, often approaching close to shore in the hope of a
surprise attack. On this occasion, they were not successful. Every seal in
the viscinity had edged beyond the high tide line, so the Killer Whales
headed west along the cliffs to try elsewhere. They may have been out of
luck, but I felt like the luckiest man on earth!
Alex explains why we wrote this book
We wrote this book for anybody that would like to have an incredible
encounter like that described above. Far from being a `freak event', Whales
and Dolphins of Great Britain illustrates that such encounters are
commonplace off our shores, with numerous opportunities to see whales,
dolphins, and porpoises in locations spread the length and breadth of the
Whales and Dolphins of Great Britain is the first comprehensive guide to
the whales, dolphins and porpoises of British waters. Not only are all of
the regularly seen species described in detail, there is also concise
information on where to see them from land, from whale and dolphin watching
boats, and from ferries. The text gives all of the information required for
the reader to book a trip; from which species are likely to be seen, to how
to get there, and what photographic opportunities are available. The result
is a unique guide for anybody with an interest in cetaceans and whale and
dolphin watching. It is our hope that this book will also appeal to people
that had no idea that they could go whale watching from our shores, by
bringing together a wealth of information in a format that will appeal to
both beginner and expert.
We hope you enjoy whale and dolphin watching in Great Britain as much as we
have. It really is a uniquely wonderful place!
Dylan Walker and Alex Wilson