Fair Isle and Shetland awarded IMMA status

Tim Merrick @ Focal Plane Photo

In February 2024 Fair Isle and Shetland were recognised as important areas for marine mammals and were awarded Important Marine Mammal Area (IMMA) status. IMMA status recognises Fair Isle and Shetland as important areas for a number of marine mammals including Humpback Whales, Minke Whales, Killer Whales, and Harbour Porpoises. It also recognises the importance of these areas in supporting a high diversity of other species as well as an area of importance for migrating Humpback Whales and Harbour Porpoise aggregations.

Image from the Marine Mammal Protected Areas Task Force website.

A combination of research and data collected from citizen science efforts across Shetland have contributed to this recognition. This includes sighting data submitted by Shetland Cetacean Group, community members, visitors as well as sightings data from WDC Shorewatch surveys and  SMRU long running seal surveys.  Evidence from NatureScot, Seawatch, Shetland UHI, SBRC and SMRU on the populations, behaviours and use of the seas around Shetland and Fair Isle also contributed to the proposal.

To summarise the recognition of Shetland and Fair Isle as IMMA the Marine Mammal Protected Areas Task Force wrote:

“The IMMA of Shetland and Fair Isle comprises an archipelago of >100 islands situated 75km from the continental shelf edge. Its northerly position, exposure to Atlantic currents and varied habitats support a diverse range of marine mammals. Cetacean species such as killer whales (Orcinus orca), Risso’s dolphins (Grampus griseus) and harbour porpoises (Phocoena phocoena) are found here.”

“Some pods of killer whales are considered semi-resident, Risso’s dolphins have shown site fidelity to particular areas and harbour porpoises are present year-round and form large aggregations of up to 200 individuals in the autumn and winter. Other cetaceans occur seasonally including common minke whales (Balaenoptera acutorostrata), which aggregate in the late summer/autumn, and humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae), which use Shetland to rest and feed during migration.”

“This area is also an important pupping and haul-out area for seals, particularly harbour seals (Phoca vitulina), which, around Shetland, are an important part of the inshore killer whale diet. The continental shelf and nearshore deep-water areas it are important for large baleen whales, deep diving species and occasional large pods of pelagic dolphins, such as Atlantic white-sided dolphin (Lagenorhynchus acutus).”

More information about the Shetland and Fair Isle IMMA can be found on the Marine Mammal Protected Areas Task Force website.

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Killer whales off the coast of Fair Isle (c) Alex Penn.

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