The Shetland Orca spotters who helped David Attenborough

Shetland wildlife enthusiasts banded together to help Sir David Attenborough spot orcas for his latest documentary.

Dozens of locals used WhatsApp and social media groups to alert the crew when the orca appeared and helped them capture the elusive mammals on film.

Wild Isles on BBC One will examine how British and Irish forest, grassland, freshwater and marine habitats support local wildlife.

Filming for the series lasted three years. The first episode will air on Sunday.

Shetland-based ecologist and wildlife photographer Richard Shucksmith, 49, helped the film crew learn about the local landscape.

Orcas visit the islands in spring to hunt seals.

As a member of several social media group chats dedicated to wildlife viewing for dolphins, killer whales and rare birds, Richard called the film crew together when the community spotted orcas in the area.

“Everyone tends to pull together,” he said. “If you want to see orcas, you need the help of everyone else.

“Fishermen are involved, all walks of life are involved in the WhatsApp and social media groups.

“You can’t predict when [the orcas] will appear. But because we have a good network of people, if they are spotted, everyone will be notified.

“So you have a good chance of seeing them. It would be much more difficult without the community.”

Richard told BBC Scotland that orca pods are well known to nature lovers on the islands.

He said: “A lot of killer whales that we see around Shetland, we know the pods, we’ve known them for years, we know what members there are.

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“We even know the age of the family and when the calves were born.

“In this way, a lot of good information is also collected from a Citizen Science point of view.”

He said some calls attract up to 150 locals who scramble around the formidable killer whales that occasionally block roads on the islands.

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“Some families come and bring their children and you can see the orcas just a few meters from shore,” he said.

He and colleague Nick McCaffrey, along with the film crew, have been tasked with doing drone work on the new series.

They worked with the documentary crew for five weeks every day for three years to obtain footage of the whales – including some close-up encounters.

“After filming the orcas on a boat all day, we decided to stay with them all night,” Richard said.

“It was amazing because it got too dark to film and we just turned off the engine and sat there.

“The orcas spent about an hour and a half just floating alongside the boat.

“It was crazy, a very cool experience.”

Sir David Attenborough said wildlife in the British Isles can be just as “dramatic and spectacular” as anything else.

He has said he regrets spending so much time working on natural history programs overseas rather than focusing on the wildlife on his doorstep.

The new series, which will air on BBC One on Sunday, will examine species and habitats closer to home.

Almost half of Britain’s wildlife species have declined since 1970.

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