The glittering waters of Scotland's northwest coast see their share of marine life as countless species migrate silently past the majestic Isle of Skye each year. But this season, a minke whale decided to come through with a bang. 

Image: Nick Davies/used with permission

(To infinity ... and beyond!)

The oversized torpedo was photographed by Nick Davies of Hebridean Whale Cruises. Though he's enjoyed some amazing encounters over the years, a sighting like this has long evaded his lens. 

"After 21 years, I finally got a decent shot," he says. "It started breaching about a mile away and ended up 100 metres parallel to us! I'm pleased, as it wasn't easy in the swells."

Also known as "little piked whales", minke whales are among the most common whales found in Scottish waters – but spotting them can be a challenge. For starters, they have a need for speed. 

Like other rorqual (filter feeding) whales, minkes spend their days sucking down plankton and small fish. They might not be chasing fast prey, but powerful musculature and a streamlined body allow minkes to reach up to 20 miles per hour. And as you can imagine, a breach at that speed happens quickly. 

To understand why minke whales have developed such swimming prowess, look no further than their most common natural predator: transient killer whales. In a quick "sprint", an orca could easily catch up to a minke, but these whales are endurance swimmers. By maintaining top speed for up to an hour, minkes are able to dodge predation attempts. 

This ability to get up and go isn't the only thing that makes minke whales difficult to study. Their "blow" is tough to spot, often rising only just above the water's surface – though at least it's not hard to sniff out. Accompanied by a unique olfactory bouquet – like an "unholy mingling of fart and fishiness" – the discharge is easily smelled from upwind (and has earned the whales a nickname among sailors: the "stinky minke"). 

We don't know whether Davies and his passengers caught of whiff of "eau de minke", but we suspect the sighting is one they won't forget. "We only see them fully breach a few times a season," says Davies. "This whale was about five feet shorter than our boat, but loads heavier!" 

Image: Nick Davies/used with permission
Image: Nick Davies/Used with permission
Image: Nick Davies/used with permission
Image: Nick Davies/used with permission
Image: Nick Davies/used with permission

And as if speed and agility weren't enough, minke antics beneath the waves are equally impressive – these whales are phenomenal at wielding Star Wars-style blasters: 



Top header image: jtweedie1976, Flickr