Drone footage captures moment pilot whale expels placenta off Shetland



Whale placenta
Video and image courtesy of Nick McCaffrey

Unearthed video footage from 2019 shows a pilot whale expelling its placenta in Yell Sound, Shetland. 

Drone pilot Nick McCaffrey didn’t realise how unique his footage was until he shared it with Emily Hague, a marine mammal researcher in Heriot-Watt's Marine Spatial Analysis Group.

Hague and McCaffrey have now published the footage in the academic journal Aquatic Mammals and say the clip gives insight into the lives of pilot whales. 

McCaffrey said: “I knew at the time I had witnessed something significant, but it took a moment to realise that was looking at a pilot whale placenta. After that, the behaviours I was observing became a whole lot more intriguing.”

Hague said: “Drone footage is helping us capture moments that would be impossible to see from land or boat, giving us a new insight into the underwater world. 

“Until now, knowledge of where pilot whales have their calves was extremely limited. In fact, we don’t have much understanding of where many marine mammals give birth. 

“We do know that whales and dolphins tend to expel the placenta within 12 hours of giving birth, so we can be pretty sure that this pilot whale had its calf in UK waters. 

“Understanding marine mammals’ behaviour, knowing where they mate and reproduce, can help us know where to target protection of the marine environment so that they can thrive.” 

The footage was captured by Nick McCaffrey, who is also part of the wildlife camera crew for  BBC’s Wild Isles. You can see the Oceans episode at 7 pm on BBC1 on Sunday.  


Sarah McDaid