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The island is fertile and fairly densely populated, with crofting taking second place to fishing as the main local industries.
Ferries sail from Symbister to Laxo and Vidlin on the Shetland Mainland. When normal service is in operation two ferries run a tandem service between Symbister and Laxo. Departure times from the two terminals are normally around every 35 minutes according to a timetable, with the crossing taking approximately 30 minutes. The two ferries currently in service are the Hendra and the Linga. The Vidlin terminal is used when the weather causes the crossing to Laxo to become too rough. The journey between Symbister and Laxo takes around 30 minutes, but can take slightly longer depending on the weather and tides.
The island also has an airstrip at Skaw which is used only for emergencies.
Skaw is home to the most northerly 18 hole golf course in the UK. There is a club house with adequate parking. Other sporting facilities on the isle are the Whalsay Leisure Centre, a snooker club and Harbison Park artificial sports field.
Sailing dinghies and Shetland model boats are popular, with an annual Whalsay Regatta, usually taking place in the last week of July. In recent times, the popularity of sailing has declined, with the number of participating boats decreasing with each passing year.
Whalsay has an amateur football club, as well as hockey and netball teams. These teams participate in Shetland leagues. Whalsay F.C.'s home ground is Harbison Park. In 2005, Whalsay F.C. took part in the Highland Amateur Cup, reaching the fourth knockout round. They beat Halkirk FC 2-0 in the 3rd round, but lost to Pentland Utd 2-1 in the 4th.