Shetland Guide Book
Fauna - Otter, Seals and Cetaceans

All of the land mammals in Shetland have been introduced by Man. Otters, are now thought to have arrived perhaps with early Norse settlers, along with Field and House Mice, while all of the others apart from the ubiquitous Brown Rat are much more recent. The Otter (Draatsie) is a coastal animal in Shetland and is quite common with perhaps 800 individuals. They prefer small uninhabited holms and sheltered rocky shores with abundant seaweed where they can catch their prey which mostly consists of Eelpout, Butterfish and Rockling. Although they feed in the sea, the Otter’s coat is not adapted to sea water, and it must come ashore frequently to wash and dry its coat to avoid becoming waterlogged and chilled.. Holts are virtually always near a stream of small loch, and usually within a mile of the sea, so that where streams outflow to suitable shorelines tend to be good places to look for Otters. Either early morning or late evening tends to be the best time of day to see this elusive animal. Patience and perseverance will eventually repay the observer!

Both Grey (Haaf Fish) and Common or Harbour (Tang Fish) Seals or Selkies, are relatively common in Shetland, with populations of about 3,500 and 6,200 respectively. Common Seals have their pups in June, and may be seen all around sheltered coastlines. One of the largest colonies is on Mousa, where they may be quite closely observed without disturbance. In contrast Grey Seals have their pups in Autumn when they go ashore on small, uninhabited islands or remote beaches to give birth to and suckle their pups. One of the largest colonies is the Lang Ayre, the spectacular but inaccessible beach to the west of Ronas Hill, while the largest is on the inaccessible Ve Skerries.

Cetaceans are regularly seen around the coasts. Most common are Harbour Porpoise (Neesick), while Atlantic White-sided, White-beaked and Risso’s Dolphin are also quite often seen off the east coast. Killer Whales regularly make appearances, and several pods appear to be semi-resident. Large whales are observed regularly feeding on the edge of the continental shelf, and quite often come inshore, especially in Summer, when they seem to find the waters around Sumburgh Head attractive. The most commonly seen is Minke (Herring Hog) which follows shoals of Mackerel and Herring, as does the Humpback which is seen regularly in this area. Pilot (Caa’in) Whales are also coastal regular visitors, usually in small pods, while Sperm Whales appear to be becoming more common, but sadly usually as strandings of dead animals. The larger baleen whales are normally only seen offshore near the 1,000m line, which is only 60 nautical miles from the west of Shetland, and where they feed on the abundant plankton resulting from the Atlantic Slope Current.

Photography - Photo Library - Postcards - Calendars - Guide Books

Western Isles - Orkney - Shetland - Caithness