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We need whale poo 📷 WDC NA

Whales are our climate allies – meet the scientists busy proving it

At Whale and Dolphin Conservation, we're working hard to bring whales and the ocean into...
Minke whale © Ursula Tscherter - ORES

The whale trappers are back with their cruel experiment

Anyone walking past my window might have heard my groan of disbelief at the news...
Boto © Fernando Trujillo

Meet the legendary pink river dolphins

Botos don't look or live like other dolphins. Flamingo-pink all over with super-skinny snouts and...
Risso's dolphin entangled in fishing line and plastic bags - Andrew Sutton

The ocean is awash with plastic – can we ever clean it up?

You've seen pictures of plastic litter accumulating on beaches or marine wildlife swimming through floating...
Fin whale

Is this the beginning of the end for whaling off Iceland?

I'm feeling cautiously optimistic after Iceland's Fisheries Minister Svandís Svavarsdóttir wrote that there is little...
Mykines Lighthouse, Faroe Islands

Understanding whale and dolphin hunts in the Faroe Islands – why change is not easy

Most people in my home country of the Faroe Islands would like to see an...

Dolphin scientists look like you and me – citizen science in action

Our amazing volunteers have looked out for dolphins from the shores of Scotland more than...
Atlantic white-sided dolphins

The Faroes dolphin slaughter that sparked an outcry now brings hope

Since the slaughter of at least 1,423 Atlantic white-sided dolphins at Skálafjørður in my home...

Orca Watch Week: an update.

At the end of May WDC, its Shorewatch volunteers and our friends at the Sea Watch Foundation attended the annual Orca Watch week in Caithness, Scotland. Now in its 6th year the project was the idea of local legend and Sea Watch Coordinator, Colin Bird, who was keen to measure what effect the installation of underwater turbines in the Pentland Firth would have on the presence of orcas which were known to use this body of water at certain times of the year.

Since its inception in 2012 the event has grown steadily and now attracts hundreds of people over the course of the week including dedicated whale watchers, tourists and both local and national media. Our main viewing point was Duncansby Head just east of John O’Groats but we also had teams of other observers along the coast as well as on the ferry which headed across the Pentland Firth to the Orkneys twice daily. 

Kathy James, Sea Watch Foundation’s Sightings Officer has compiled the sightings data together with an entertaining overview of the week’s events which can be seen here. Data is still being analysed but orca were sighted on 19 occasions between May 20th and the 28th. Other cetaceans spotted include Risso’s dolphins, minke whales and harbour porpoise

While writing this update regular reports are still coming in of orcas spotted off Scotland’s northern coastline as well as around the Orkney and Shetland Isles. Dedicated social media sites encourage people to submit their whale and dolphin photos to enable researchers to build a more comprehensive picture of how orcas are utilising this area during the summer months. It is important for people on the water to know that all photos should be sourced responsibly to avoid any undue stress to the whales. Most photos are clear enough to allow researchers to identify who’s who amongst the pod and perhaps one of the most distinctive orcas regularly seen is Mousa who travels down from Iceland with her family in Spring each year. Last year Mousa was regularly seen off the Caithness coast in early summer before heading north to the Shetlands where the family appeared to spend most of August and September.

There are currently 432 orca in the Icelandic orca ID catalogue but to date it appears that only a handful – maybe a dozen or so – make the trip south each year. Why this is nobody is entirely sure but those that do come appear to be switching their food preference from hunting herring in Iceland to seals in Scotland.

The valuable information gleaned as to how and when orcas use this area will be used to inform conservation management policy and make sure the orcas’ voice is heard as our coastlines become increasingly developed.

I have no doubt that Orca Watch 2018 will be an even bigger and better event and, who knows, we may be able to add new fins to the database of orcas doing the Iceland-Scotland shuffle. 

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