Orca Watch 2019 sees a high diversity of cetaceans

Many fantastic cetacean species were spotted during the annual orca event, which ran from 17–26 May.

Orcas. © Steve Truluck

This year marked Sea Watch Foundation’s eighth Orca Watch campaign, which involved members of the general public recording sightings of orcas, and any other cetacean species utilising the waters of the Pentland Firth and neighbouring seas.

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Pods of orca were spotted by volunteers in Caithness, where the adults were accompanied by a calf. There were also sightings near Burwick and between Stroma and Switha.

“We are ecstatic about the most recent sightings of orcas reported from the John O’Groats ferries and for the many other species which were reported so far around Caithness, Orkney and Shetland!” says Dr Chiara Giulia Bertulli, Sea Watch sightings officer.

Sea Watch Foundation scientists and volunteers have been recording the sightings of whales, dolphins and porpoises to a mass database for over 40 years, making it one of the oldest citizen-science schemes in the world.

Other cetacean species sighted during this year’s event included harbour porpoises off Duncansby Head, Dunnet Head, St John’s Point, and the Stacks of Duncansby.

Minke whales were seen off Duncansby Lighthouse, Dunnet Head, and Brough with a sighting also off John O’Groats.

In Orkney, Risso’s dolphins were sighted off Birsay, Hoy Sound; a minke whale was seen off Papa Westray from Sanday, by local Orca Watch organisers.

In Shetland, sightings included a humpback whale off Nista Skerries, Uyea, as well as harbour porpoises, minke whales and Risso’s dolphins.

Humpback whale. © Ewen Mowat
Humpback whale. © Ewen Mowat

Both Orkney and Shetland have had records of basking sharks, while a family of otters was sighted at the John O’Groats harbour, in Caithness.

The Orca Watch is an increasingly important citizen-science event monitoring the health of cetaceans in Britain.

“Orca Watch is a great opportunity for anyone to get involved in cetacean conservation, it is about collecting vital data for the protection and conservation of local cetacean species,”continues Chiara.

“It is about sharing this magical event with volunteer observers from different paths in life and having fun all together.”

Orcas. © Steve Truluck
Orcas. © Steve Truluck
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Main image: Orcas. © Steve Truluck