“There she blows!” That was the cry of the old-time whale hunters perched in the crow’s nest. Today the whales can breathe more easily since the business of harpooning these gentle giants for their blubber has been overshadowed by a whale-watching industry worth more than $2 million (£1.44 million) worldwide every year.
In Britain it began off the Isle of Mull in 1989, and last summer, Scotland – in particular Orkney, Shetland, and the Pentland Firth – was the destination of choice for Fred Olsen’s first ever scenic British Isles and summer wildlife cruise on board Bolette, its new 62,000-ton flagship.
Age shouldn’t be a barrier to anyone in search of an epic wildlife holiday. So if, like me, you have had a lifelong passion for the wonders of the natural world but are getting a little grey in years, there is nothing like this soft adventure to get your fix. The cruise aspect makes everything so convenient – boarding and disembarking in England means you don’t have to navigate an airport (or any tricky Covid restrictions at all) and you just unpack the once. It’s an easy way of enjoying wildlife without having to travel halfway around the world.
Named after Fred Olsen Jr’s great-great-grandmother, Bolette has room for 1,338 guests in her 690 cabins, but is still smaller than most other cruise ships, allowing her to reach destinations inaccessible to large vessels.
When I joined her in Dover, she had just completed her maiden voyage after an extensive makeover in Rosyth, and her royal blue hull and sleek white superstructure were sparkling in the August sunshine. Accompanying us on this special cruise were Andrew Crowder and Tony Chenery, two hawk-eyed experts from Orca, the UK-based marine wildlife charity dedicated to studying and protecting the whales, dolphins and porpoises found in the seas around Britain and Europe.
In British waters alone, no fewer than 28 cetacean species have been observed. They include such giants as humpbacks and fin whales, and at least seven species are spotted regularly throughout the year.
Binoculars forever at the ready, Crowder and Chenery scanned the seas for signs of life from the open deck below the bridge. Even before we had left the English Channel behind, they had spotted our first marine mammals of the voyage – a gathering of harbour seals hauled out on the Goodwin Sands.