The largest group of whales thought to have been seen travelling together in or near the Firth of Forth has been recorded from the air.
The pod of 14 sperm whales was seen on Thursday heading from the island of Fidra to the Lamb, just a mile offshore at North Berwick in East Lothian.
The whales then changed direction, heading towards Crail in Fife.
They were reported to the Scottish Seabird Centre by microlight pilots who saw them from a height of 500ft.
The whales were also spotted by Scottish Natural Heritage staff and other researchers on the Isle of May who were able to identify the whales’ tail flukes, dorsal fins and plumes of spray.
Erich Hoyt, North Berwick-based marine conservationist and author, said: “Sperm whales are rarely seen in the Firth of Forth, and to see 14 of them travelling together is very special.
“The previous close sighting of sperm whales in North Berwick was exactly 10 years ago this month when a large sperm whale landed on the beach at Canty Bay, but this is certainly the largest group of living whales we’ve seen travelling together in or near the Firth of Forth.
“Sperm whales are usually residents of deeper waters off the north and west of Scotland where they hunt squid.”
He added: “The images confirm that they are sperm whales, including a few that are either immature males or females.
“Sperm whales in groups are usually either all males or females with juveniles and calves, so given the absence of calves and the location this is most probably a group of young males.
“The one tail that is visible is consistent with a sperm whale tail fluke.”
David Pickett, Scottish Natural Heritage’s National Nature Reserve Manager on the Isle of May, said: “This was a thrilling experience. We were able to get distant views of two pods of sperm whales, distinguished by the flattened dorsal fin, the way the plume of spray went forward rather than up, and their enormous size.”
Tom Brock, CEO of the Scottish Seabird Centre, said: “This sighting is truly wonderful news and helps to highlight some of the amazing wildlife that can be spotted right here on our doorstep.
“It’s thrilling that such a large pod of whales were seen so close to the Seabird Centre.”