Mysterious orcas spotted in Norway reveal significant insight

For the first time ever, a match has been made between orcas photographed in Scotland and in Norway.

Scotland Norway orca Match 2

Back in 2018, a pod of three orcas caused much excitement when they were spotted and just 300 metres away from Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust’s research yacht, Silurian, particularly when it was found that they had never been seen in Scottish waters before.

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Now three years later, the three orcas were seen again in a larger pod, but this time in the waters off southern Norway – the first time a photographic match has been made between the two locations.

In early July, a citizen scientist called Asmund Aasheim spotted and photographed a pod of six orca in Børøyfjorden, and sent his images off to the Norwegian Orca Survey.

Dr Eve Jourdain realised that they were unfamiliar individuals, based on the colouration on the animals’ backs – known as a saddle patch – which looked different to orcas normally seen around Norway.

The saddle patch area on the animals' backs was different to those on animals normally seen around Norway.
The saddle patch area on the animals’ backs was different to those on animals normally seen around Norway. © Becky Dudley

“From the moment I first took a look at Asmud’s photos, I knew these orcas were “different” from our Norwegian orcas,” says Dr Jourdain.

“Following our routine protocols, I tried to identify them from our Norwegian Catalogue anyway, but as expected, I found no match. When it came to mind that I should browse through the Scottish Catalogue, I had a strong feeling that I would find them there. And, bingo! It was incredible to find this first photographic match between Norway and Scotland!”

The finding was then confirmed by researchers at the Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust and the authors of the Scottish Killer Whale Catalogue.

The only time these orcas had been seen previously was in 2018, when they were photographed by the Trust’s Science Officer Becky Dudley.

“The encounter with this group of killer whales back in 2018 was one of the most amazing experiences I’ve had on Scotland’s west coast,” she says.

“It was made even more exciting when – despite much investigation and collaboration with other organisations – the identity of this pod remained a mystery. I am thrilled that the group has been matched to the group seen in Norway over three years later. It highlights how much there is to learn about the marine life in our oceans.”

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The catalogues are an important resource for researchers to enable them to identify different individuals and the movements of them and their pods.