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Orca Watch returns to Caithness and north Sutherland for 10th anniversary year


By Alan Hendry

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A killer whale photographed from the Pentland Venture during a previous Orca Watch week. Picture: Steve Truluck
A killer whale photographed from the Pentland Venture during a previous Orca Watch week. Picture: Steve Truluck

Killer whale fans will be out in force across the far north at the end of this month as Sea Watch Foundation’s annual Orca Watch marks its 10th anniversary.

The aim is to collect as much data as possible on whales, dolphins and porpoises in the waters around Caithness and north Sutherland as well as Orkney and Shetland, with everyone encouraged to join in land watches, boat trips and talks.

After being cancelled in 2020 because of Covid, Orca Watch went ahead in a limited way last year with a small group gathering data which was shared in a series of online presentations.

Those taking part will be hoping for a continuation of recent orca activity, with good sightings reported in recent weeks at Duncansby Head, Dunnet Head, Thurso Bay and other locations along the north coast.

Last month crew members on the John O'Groats ferry encountered a group of about half a dozen orcas, including a young calf, while heading back from South Ronaldsay.

Orcas passing Sandside Head during Orca Watch last year. They went on to hunt a porpoise. Picture: Karen Munro
Orcas passing Sandside Head during Orca Watch last year. They went on to hunt a porpoise. Picture: Karen Munro

From its base at the library at the John O’Groats Inn, Orca Watch is a 10-day event bringing together volunteers and citizen scientists.

It begins formally on Saturday, May 28, with an evening of talks at the Pulteney Centre in Wick. During the week, land watches will be taking place at locations from Strathy Point to Wick and beyond.

John O’Groats Ferries – described as a key partner of Orca Watch – will be welcoming volunteer citizen scientists on board its Orkney services and wildlife cruises throughout the week, and will offer a discount to orca watchers.

Following the success of the online sessions in 2021, some events will be live-streamed for those who can’t attend in person.

Sea Watch Foundation has partnered with a number of other businesses and organisations including John O’Groats Development Trust, Dunnet and Canisbay Community Council, Orkney Marine Mammal Research Initiative, NatureScot, Caithness and North Sutherland Fund, High Life Highland, the Cabin at John O’Groats, Together Travel, Seaview Hotel, Windhaven Camping and B&B, the Northern Sands Hotel, the Crofter’s Snug, Highland Haven and Pentland Lodge House.

Orca watchers at Brims last year. Picture: Karen Munro
Orca watchers at Brims last year. Picture: Karen Munro

Katie Baker, communication and outreach officer for Sea Watch, said: "We are planning to be back in force at the end of May, with our eyes peeled, to try and spot as many fins as we can while collecting valuable effort-related data.

"Visit us at the Orca Watch base to find out more about when and where watches are taking place, and browse the information and merchandise we will have available."

Orca Watch began in 2012. It was founded by Colin Bird, a former regional coordinator at Sea Watch Foundation.

The environmental charity encourages everyone to get involved with contributing to data, whether during Orca Watch or throughout the rest of the year. Sightings can be submitted to www.seawatchfoundation.org.uk/sightingsform

Two of the orcas, including a young calf, seen from the Pentland Venture last month. Picture: Ivor Thomas / John O'Groats Ferries
Two of the orcas, including a young calf, seen from the Pentland Venture last month. Picture: Ivor Thomas / John O'Groats Ferries

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