A pod of pilot whales that has taken up residence at Loch Carnan in South Uist are being monitored by animal welfare experts in case the 20 foot mammals decide to beach themselves.
The whales turned up on Wednesday afternoon and were spotted off the pier at Loch Carnan in relatively deep water.
While the animals, thought to number at least 25, are not showing some signs of distress the situation is being monitored.
The Scottish SPCA and British Divers Marine Life Rescue (BDMLR) have launched a joint rescue operation in a bid to save the whales.
The local coastguard team contacted the animal welfare experts for help after receiving reported sightings of a large pod of pilot whales near the shores of Loch Carnan on Wednesday (27 October). Members of the public had seen the animals close to shore from 9.00am that morning. The Coastguard Rescue Team from Griminish observed the pod from the shore until darkness fell.
This morning the Coastguards from Benbecula returned to Loch Carnan where the pod was seen, still in deep water, but only some 300 to 400 Metres off shore.
A large scale rescue operation between the Scottish SPVCA, BDMLR, Stornoway Coastguard and local volunteers was initiated at first light on Thursday (28 October).
Two teams of volunteers, including ten medics from BDMLR and three Scottish SPVA inspectors (two of whom have also been trained by BDMLR) are traveling from the mainland to the site, taking three vehicles, two rescue trailers and four sets of rescue pontoons. The Scottish SPCA auxiliary inspector based on the island is currently monitoring the whales and organising local volunteers to assist in the operation.
The rescuers have also enlisted the help of Project Jonah, the New Zealand based marine mammal rescue organisation who have expertise and experience in mass whale strandings and will be providing advice over the phone.
Scottish SPCA Senior Inspector Andy Brown said, “Reported sighting suggest that there are 24 whales in the pod and that they are circling and displaying laboured breathing, all signs that they may be in distress and in need of our help.
“We won’t know the full extent of the situation until we are able to locate and assess the pod. However, we have quickly assembled an excellent team of people who will be working tirelessly together to get the best result we can for these magnificent creatures.”
Ali Jack, BDMLR Scottish National Organiser who is leading the response team said, “The pod has been reported this morning as being lined up about 150 metres off shore, thankfully not having stranded overnight.
“However, their proximity to the coast and behaviour suggests that there is a strong potential for a stranding, so our combined team will be on hand to monitor the situation, assess potential stranding sites and move into action if necessary.”
Close to mid-day today (Thursday) when the whales were in danger of heading towards the head of the loch, local fish farmers took their boats and having formed a ‘U’ shape behind them, slowly guided them back out past the pier where they are safe just now from stranding. The fish farmers then stood down and have left the whales in peace, where they are now ‘milling’ in a tight group.
Martin Collins, Coastguard Watch Manager said: “None of the whales have stranded but it is unclear why such a large number have come so close inshore. It’s just a waiting game at the moment to see what develops and we have the expertise and resources in place to assist if any of the whales do come ashore. The whales are being left alone, no boats are going near them and we are continuing to monitor the situation from the shore with the other organisations.”