On being alone and witnessing Orca whales


I recently spent a week on the Isle Of Eigg, one of the smallest and most remote of the Scottish Western Isles just south of Skye and a ferry hop away from Mallaig. Eigg is one of a cluster of four islands collectively known as the “Small Isles” and its community history is an interesting one in that the decision was made by the population of 79, after years of poor laird stewardship, to establish the Eigg Trust and buy out the island for future generations.

The single local shop and absence of a fuel station mean that life there is more than a lifestyle decision. Crofting is still the main activity although tourism is on the increase, the island being visited for the spectacular landscape, the eco activity (the island generating its own power through wind,wave and solar power), island bagging or simply to get away from it all.

Eigg’s weather is always unpredictable (neighbouring Rum’s weather is the wettest of all the Scottish isles) and after 9 months of storms daily, the locals’ endurance of relentless rain was unsurprisingly frayed. I was worn down more quickly with my mettle and zeal for working in the landscape from predawn to twilight being challenged not only by the physical endurance needed to hike but to remain constantly vigilant to the dynamics of water and seek what little cover there was when needed. A steely determination to make the most of my time there with the hope of capturing wonderful imagery meant that one had to be out there to be open to the possibilities, even if this did result in battling with an umbrella and getting drenched. My body and equipment certainly took a pummelling and a rest was needed when I finally returned home physically. Emotionally this landscape challenges too for I found my inner psyche driving the body forward to experience awe and wonder despite total exhaustion, as well as feeling disappointment when hopes for the scene did not materialise. When opportunities unfurled before me, the joy of being there and feeling at one within the scenery was unparalleled and one dawn morning, I was to feel disappointment transform into spectacular amazement even though I came away with no images whatsoever…

The initial colouration had looked hopeful but did not last and it wasn’t too long before the sky bleached an unexciting white at 5 am. But then I was suddenly aware of the sound of large sea creatures circling and leaping with blow hole water sprays and communicative grunting. A pod of seven Orca whales had swum into Laig bay from the US (they visit annually) and were herding their prey. For more than an hour, these amazing beasts jumped like dolphins revealing their white bellies and seemed to be in a state of ecstasy. It was one of those sights that made me simply gaze out and drink in through my eyes. I didn’t have the long lenses needed to capture that wildlife, and neither did I feel the need to try. I simply felt drawn to observing for the joy of witness to nature.

I returned back for my hearty breakfast later feeling incredibly lucky to have been in the right place at the right time. Those pictures of natural beauty are indelibly etched in my imagination.

Despite my early starts, I never witnessed them again and neither did the fellow occupants of my B+B spurred on by my suggestion of seeking them out for themselves. In my mind however, I see them again and again, jumping higher and higher still.