By Shannon Lane @Shannonroselane
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Videographer / director: Richard Shucksmith
Producer: Shannon Lane, Nick Johnson
Editor: Joshua Douglas
The rare moment was witnessed off the Shetland Islands, Scotland, by coastal and marine photographers Richard Shucksmith and Brydon Thomason.
The Shetland Islands’ local had spotted the whales feeding in the area over the previous three weeks, and was anticipating an opportunity to photograph them up close.
Richard said: “I had been waiting for a weather window to go and try to get underwater images of the humpback whales. One of the crew took us out on his boat on an incredibly calm and sunny day, rare in mid-winter.
"We followed at a distance and manoeuvred the boat into the sound and turned off the engine and waited.
"Then all of sudden one surfaced 20m away, and I slipped into the water and within seconds both the whales were heading straight towards me.
"My heart was in my mouth as I realised this was going to be so close, and with just an arm’s length from me they turned, looked at me and gently glided past. I was astounded and so happy to have such a close encounter, the gentle giants of the sea."
Growing up to 52 ft, and weighing approximately 36,000 kg, despite their intimidating size, humpback whales are harmless to humans and mostly eat krill and small fish.
During the winter months humpback whales leave the icy waters of the North Atlantic Ocean and migrate past the UK to warmer locations.
The photographer-cum-ecologist said: “Every year there are sightings of humpbacks round Shetland but they have not been predictable in the past.
“This year we suspect that there has been a good food source for them round Shetland such as large shoals of mackerel inshore."
Once hunted to the brink of extinction for their oil and meat, it is hoped that the recent increase of whale sightings around British seas reflects on a healthier and rising population in humpback whales.
Richard said: “It was an incredible experience, a privilege to be swimming with humpbacks in UK seas.
“People travel to places like Tonga and Norway to swim with humpbacks and here we are doing it in the UK. British seas are truly amazing.”