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Hundreds watch orcas at Scrabster

By SPP Reporter

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Close to shore – the orcas are pictured from Scrabster lighthouse. Photo: Karen Munro
Close to shore – the orcas are pictured from Scrabster lighthouse. Photo: Karen Munro

AN exceptionally close encounter with a group of five killer whales by hundreds of visitors and locals at Thurso and Scrabster marked the dramatic return of a well-documented pod.

Karen Munro, from Scrabster, who has recorded sightings for the Sea Watch Foundation for seven years, was among those to see the orcas on June 10.

"I have never seen even harbour porpoises that close in to the harbour," she said. "The water in the harbour was said to be ‘boiling’ when the killers passed Thurso. There were also lots of gannets and other fish-eating birds around so we think they were driving a shoal of mackerel before them."

Karen was first alerted to the group by her stepson, a local lifeboat man, who had seen them in Dunnet Bay.

She followed the group – a sub-adult male, two females, a juvenile and a calf – along the coast around Thurso to Scrabster.

At one point the group was in the surf just five metres from the coastline, at another it was swimming through a group of yachtsmen and women from the Pentland Firth Yacht Club, and at another it was so close into the harbour that hundreds were able to stand and watch.

Karen said: "The harbour was busy with holiday-makers and locals and there was a real sense of excitement. We have heard of killer whales close in to the shore in the Shetlands, but they have never been this close here. I have been watching killer whales in Caithness since 2006, but this was really exceptional."

She sent photos of the orca pod to Dr Andy Foote, who compiles records of sightings for the North Atlantic Killer Whale Project, and he was able to confirm from distinctive "saddleback" and fin markings that two in the group were numbers 72 and 73 in his catalogue, and are always seen together in the group of


Sea Watch Director Dr Peter Evans said: "Identifying these killer whales is extremely important in helping scientists to understand numbers and the strength and health of populations, their behaviours and their movements. The more we know about them, the better we can conserve our marine animals.

"We always welcome pictures of whales, dolphins and porpoises from around the coast and will help to identify what has been seen. Pictures of fins are often the most reliable way to identify whether individuals have been seen before, although in the case of killer whales a shot of the flanks is very useful as the saddle patch can vary also in shape and size."

For Karen it is the second spectacular killer whale sighting in less than two months. She was among those who witnessed a group of six killer whales hunting white-beaked dolphins in the Pentland Firth last month.

Confirmation of the ID of two of the latest group indicates this was an entirely different group. A female killer whale found washed up dead at Brims Ness about three miles away is also thought to be unconnected. An autopsy is being carried out to find out the cause of death.

Sea Watch holds the National Whale and Dolphin Watch which takes place from July 27 to 29.

The charity hopes anyone with a love of wildlife, a pair of binoculars and access to the coast will take part.

For details of local co-ordinators, accredited boat operators, sightings sheets and more information go to www.seawatchfoundation.org.uk or e-mail sightings@seawatchfoundation.org.uk

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