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One of the youngest orca calves to be photographed in Scottish waters spotted

A NEWBORN orca calf believed to be one of the youngest calves to be photographed in Scottish waters has been spotted in Shetland.

Naturalist Hugh Harrop was amazed after spotting the mother whale, known to locals as Grace, swimming alongside her new calf on Sunday.

Hugh, who founded Shetland Wildlife, suspected that Grace was pregnant in August and spotted the whale in her pod of four on 28 December.

Matriarch 64 and her newly born calf
Mum Grace – also known as Matriarch 64 – with her newborn calf on Sunday.                C. Hugh Harrop

But the 52-year-old had his suspicions confirmed at the weekend after managing to photograph the same pod at Lerwick Harbour in Shetland – with a newborn calf.

Incredible images show the young killer whale, who was less than 20 days old, swimming alongside its mother just metres away from the mainland.

The weeks-old orca is clearly visible in the snaps and is shown to have orange discoloured skin, due to recently being born.

Within the first year, orcas take on the black and white colouring that they are often known for.

Keen whale watchers have flocked to the area trying to catch a glimpse of the now pod of five – consisting of mother Grace, father Sanday and their offspring.

Hugh, who helps to maintain the Scottish Killer Whale Catalogue, described the sighting as a “heart stopping moment”.

Mother Grace
Mother orca Grace – also known as Matriarch 64 – swimming around Shetland on Sunday.                    C Hugh Harrop

Referring to Grace as Matriarch 64, her official name on the Scottish Killer Whale Catalogue, Shetland Wildlife shared Hugh’s photograph on Facebook later on that day.

Their post read: “When four became five, new orca calf.

“We were absolutely over the moon to find and photograph this new addition to the ’64s’ pod in Bressay Sound this afternoon alongside mum and Matriarch ’64’.

“Having watched and filmed the pod at the end of December 2021, when there were only four individuals, this calf has been born in the last 20 days or so.

“This is ’64s’ third calf since 2015, she gave birth to a calf between December 2018 – May 2019 and gave birth to a calf in 2015/16.

“A special moment indeed.”

The post has received over 3,200 likes and more than 300 shares.

The family last year
Drone footage from 28 Dec showing pod of four (same pod).                C. Hugh Harrop

Social media users were delighted to hear of the newest pod addition.

Lowri Cameron said: “How absolutely wonderful, such a beautiful baby.”

Kerry Larbalestier said: “Thank you for a stunning photo on this dreich day and what a wonderful sighting.”

Aaron Cully said: “I love orcas, I could watch them all day and the sound they make.”

Brian Gray added: “Can we call the waters around Shetland an orca nursery yet?”

Speaking today, Hugh said: “We suspected in August she may have been carrying a calf.

“There were some sightings in Orkney as well.

“From the aerial footage you get a lot of light refraction from the water so it’s not something you want to make an assumption about.

“[On Sunday] we got a notification they were at the main harbour.”

“We raced to the north of Lerwick Harbour.

“The first thing we saw was the epic 20ft long bull coming straight towards us.

“Then the female ’64’ came towards us with a black and orange beside her.
“It was heart stopping, I went ‘wow, she’s got a calf’.

“It is one of the youngest calves found in Scottish waters.

Hugh Harrop.
Hugh Harrop.                    C. Hugh Harrop

“I remember sitting and thinking, ‘wow, that just happened in a second and then it was back down’.

“It a moment you’ll never forget.”

Hugh added: “As heartening as seeing a newborn calf is, now over the next 12 months we’ll be keeping a close eye on it.

“Orca mortality is as high as 50% in its first year.”

Although it is commonly believed that Scotland’s killer whale population is dying out, it only seems to be the case in the western waters of Scotland.

The orca population in the north of Scotland remains healthy.

Hugh and his colleagues have spotted and catalogued over 200 Orcas from 2006 – 2021.

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