Wild West Coast – In search of the Orca Whale, Skye & Outer Hebrides

Voyage No. Start date End date Start port End port Days Price
BE260621 Sat 26 June (15.00) Mon 5 July (10.00) Oban, North Pier Ullapool 10 £1040 Book voyage »

Please note: all of Bessie Ellen’s bookings are now handled by Nikki’s own agency, VentureSail Holidays. By clicking ‘Book voyage’ you will be taken to a VentureSail booking form in order to secure your berths.

Overview

From Oban to Ullapool this exciting new voyage takes us on a journey discovering our wild coast in search of the Orca Whale (Killer Whale) that live here. It is well documented that one whale, known as John Coe, and his companion Aquarius live and feed in the waters of the Minch.  These two Orca make up a pod known as the Scottish West Coast Community of 4 pairs (m&f) and  their territorial range is huge, from Western Ireland to Stornoway.

Your voyage will take us through their home waters, taking in islands on the way along with other cetacean species ( Minke & dolphin) and enjoying all the freedom of wild Scotland.

 

Voyage Description

Your  voyage begins in the charming highland town of Oban from where we set out for a new adventure for Bessie Ellen . Heading  out to the Sound of Mull, the ship’s crew will delight in teaching you the elemental skills necessary to sail the ship, names of lines and and their jobs alongside a trick at the wheel and navigation.

Our first night will be in a quiet Loch  at the western end of the Sound, Drom Buidhe, loch of the golden shores , a stunning and peaceful anchorage, surrounded by hills rising steeply from the waters edge and perfect for eagle and otter.   The following morning we are heading out towards Canna and the Minch.  Known as the Minch this protected sea  between the Inner and Outer Hebrides is well known for whale sightings, both Minke and Orca and it is often we see the large Minke and plenty of dolphins.  From Canna, the Outer isles  of Uist and Harris beckon with stunningly remote anchorages, perfect for a walk ashore to take in the views across this watery landscape.  Wander through the remains of scattered black houses, providing  a glimpse into the past of clan life before the clearances, now a lonely and remote coast with few inhabitants other than fish farms.

Beyond lie the Shiants, a small island group of basalt, providing cliffs of epic proportions and for me one of the most perfect places in Scotland.  It is so quiet and peaceful here, the wildlife and birdlife seem to have no fear of man, especially the skua who have a nasty habit of diving at you , protecting their nests.  Seals moan their mournful song  from the caves over on Eilean Mhuire to the puffins on Garbh Eilean flocking in from the surrounding waters.  A small bothy lies by the spring and it is well worth the walk to the ancient settlement that overlooks the sea to Skye.  On a good day, the silver grey sea makes whale spotting easy as smooth black hides break the silky waters.

It is from Shiant that we start to look in earnest for  Orca as the NW point of Skye is very much John Coe’s territory.  Featuring the large dorsal fin, identifying the whale is anything but easy unless we have a good lookout, especially in choppy waters.

We head north, up towards Stornaway before heading east towards the mainland and the well known Summer Isles.

 

 

 

 

Wildlife

Orca whale John Coe and his companion Aquarius are very much at home here in the waters of the Minch and make up a part of a pod consisting of four males and four females.  Sadly, they are on the edge of extinction and John Coe is known as the loneliest killer whale on earth.

This species of whale are fascinating and science has shown there are server Orca ecotypes : “ECOLOGICALLY DISTINCT POPULATIONS OR GENETICALLY DISTINCT SPECIES WHICH HAVE NOT YET BEEN FORMALLY DESCRIBED AS SEPARATE SPECIES. BUT IT IS NOW EVIDENT THAT VARIOUS DIFFERENT POPULATIONS OF KILLER WHALES ARE SPECIATING – AN EVOLUTIONARY PROCESS BY WHICH POPULATIONS EVOLVE TO BECOME DISTINCT SPECIES IN THEIR OWN RIGHT. THIS PROCESS MAY HAVE BEGUN OVER TWO HUNDRED THOUSAND YEARS AGO WITH KILLER WHALES AND IS STILL ONGOING.”

From DNA taken from Lulu, a deceased pod member, this community of orca are different from other Northern  populations , possibly originating from Antarctia as mammal eating killer whale as opposed to fish eating orca breeding is in decline as they don’t interbreed with their own pod or with the genetically different species.

The sad fact for John Coe and his pod of friends, is there are no other of their kind in the North Atlantic.

Unfortunately for John Coe and company and other similar specialised small communities of Killer Whales worldwide exploiting special niches by adapting to the habitat and environment, including specialised hunting methods for exclusive prey species ranging from fish to other mammals to birds (penguins) and reptiles (turtles), if their social exclusivity cannot keep pace with the required reproductive rates to succeed as a community then advantage is with the bigger more successfully reproductive community in this “Game of Thrones” being played out in nature and John Coe may be the last of this ecotype of marine mammal-eating Killer Whales to visit our shores.
But what appears to be certain is that Killer Whales worldwide appear to be at the start ( 250,000 years is not a long time on the evolutioary clock) of what is called “adaptive radiation of Killer Whales whereby a variety of new species will exploit diverse ecological niches ……or we could be looking at an ongoing process by which new ecotypes form and periodically wink out” [ Killer Whale: Evolution – Whalewatcher]

Useful Information

How to get there:

By Rail: Queen Street Station, Glasgow. Train links from all over UK. Glasgow – Oban runs 4 scheduled trains a day in summer.

Fly: From Bristol, London Gatwick, Stanstead, Luton, BirminghamUnited Kingdom Belfast City Cardiff East Midland Exeter Leeds Bradford Manchester Norwich and Southampton.

There is parking space in Oban if you arrive by car.

Please note that you will need to arrange your own travel insurance, which covers you for the duration of your voyage. We recommend Topsail Insurance, which offers single policies from about £20.

Start Location:

End Location:

Read our Frequently Asked Questions for answers to a few common enquiries that we receive.