LOCAL wildlife enthusiasts have witnessed a rare event — a pod of Orcas hunting dolphins off the Caithness coast.
Whale-watchers described the scenes at Duncansby Head last Sunday as the most spectacular they have ever seen.
Thurso enthusiast Karen Munro along with Sea Watch co-ordinator Colin Bird, from Lybster, saw six Orcas attacking a group of five white-beaked dolphins.
The awesome sight mesmerised the watchers who believe at least one of the dolphins was killed as a result of the attack.
Mrs Munro told the John O’Groat Journal that scenes such as these are very rarely seen by humans and to her knowledge it is the first time it has ever been witnessed in the Pentland Firth.
“Nothing like this has ever been recorded in Caithness waters,” she said.
“Killer whale sightings are usually quite sporadic, but there are always sightings of them in the Pentland Firth on the same week in May every year.
“Colin and myself always go to Duncansby Head to analyse what kind of patterns they use in the firth.”
“After witnessing nothing on Saturday, there were reports of white-beak dolphins beside Stroma first thing on Sunday morning.
“I set up a scope when I saw some splashing in order to see the dolphins, but on closer inspection it was a female killer whale.
“I then discovered that there was a pod of six whales and that they were chasing the group of white-beak dolphins.”
The enthusiasts immediately realised they were witnessing dolphins being hunted down by a group of Orcas that included two large males.
Mrs Munro believes that the chase may have lasted around three minutes before the whales made a kill.
“I personally saw three dolphins breaching right out of the water as they were chased,” she explained.
“Then it all went quiet and six Orca fins rose together but did not appear to be moving. A minute or two later they all rose together in the same place which made us think they had caught one of the dolphins.
“Finally in true killer whale fashion they disappeared with us not knowing which direction they went in. “
Killer whales are frequently seen off Dunnet Head and Duncansby Head and are thought to be from a small population of about 30 animals.
It is believed that the Orcas had originated in Icelandic waters and were making their way south following herring trails.
Mrs Munro said that killer whale attacks on dolphins have not been documented in UK waters and that most sightings of attacks have been on seals in the Pentland Firth.
She said attacks on dolphins are more commonly seen on the coasts of other countries and she believes she has taken some of the first photographs of the event in the North of Scotland.
The Sea Watch group is continuing to monitor the Duncansby Head area for further sightings of whales until Sunday.
Members are also appealing to anyone who has pictures of killer whales off the Caithness coast to get in touch so they can see if they are the same as those spotted at Duncansby.