Known as the 'bonny isle', Whalsay (pronounced 'wallsa') is a peat-covered, loch-studded island in the Shetland group of the Northern Isles, situated to the east of the Mainland of Shetland. It is the sixth largest of Shetland's islands, extending to 5 miles (8 km) in length by 2 miles (3.2 km) wide and with an area of 1970 ha (4868 acres). It rises to a height of 119m (390 feet) at Ward of Clett. One of the more densely populated islands in Scotland, its population is stable at 1061 (2011), 1034 (2001), 1041 (1991) and 1031 (1981), having risen sharply from 764 (1961) and 870 (1971). The people principally earn their livelihood from fishing and fish-processing, with crofting playing only a minor role. Other employment is in the manufacturing and service sectors. The island's port is located at Symbister in the south and its airstrip at Skaw in the north. A frequent ferry connects Symbister with Laxo, or Vidlin in rough weather. Other notable settlements are Brough in the north of the island, Clate in the southwest, Isbister in the southeast, and Huxter in the south. Most of the island's facilities are to be found around Symbister, although there is an 18-hole golf course at Skaw, the most northerly in Britain. Historic trading links with Europe have left a legacy of several interesting buildings, including the B-listed Hanseatic Booth in Symbister. Poet Hugh MacDiarmid (1892 - 1978) lived at Sodom during the 1930s.
Said to have more millionaires per head of population than anywhere else in Britain, money has been made from a small number of enormous super-trawlers which can be seen regularly in the harbour. However, scandal struck the island in 2012 when several fisherman were convicted of under-reporting their catches in breach of European Union quotas and illegally landing fish worth millions of pounds.