Orca Watch 2017

20th – 28th May 2017

Pentland Firth

Orca Watch Logo Image
Breaching killer whale by John Irvine/ Sea Watch Foundation

Killer whales (orcas) are rare in the British Isles but can be observed mainly in northern Britain, around the Hebrides and the Northern Isles (Orkney and Shetland). Those from the Northern Isles seem to come from a population that ranges between Norway, Iceland and the Faroes, visiting the northernmost North Sea in the winter to feed upon herring or mackerel, and then coming closer to shore between May and August, where they have been observed chasing seals.

This year’s Orca Watch is planned for the last week in May to coincide with the annual passage of killer whales observed in the Pentland Firth. The aim of Orca Watch is to collect vital data on this and other cetacean species in the area, whilst informing the public about these enigmatic animals just off their shores!

Originally instigated by Sea Watch Regional Coordinator Colin Bird, the event is now in its sixth year and is growing in popularity. We are really pleased about this and welcome collaboration from other organisations to ensure that this event reaches as many people as possible!

  • For the public

    We’re currently in the process of planning Orca Watch activities and new events will be listed below as soon as we have them.

    Whilst you could certainly plan your own holiday around the event, we are only inviting you to join in with our surveys, training course and other events and we cannot provide accommodation or travel.

    2013 OrcaKiller whales seen during Orca Watch. Photo by Colin Bird/ Sea Watch Foundation

    • Sat

      Duncansby Head

      Join Orca Watch founder, Colin Bird, as he watches for orcas! You can come along for as little or as long as you like, but if you think you can offer upwards of an hour please drop us a line so we can get organised! Please dress sensibly for changeable weather and bring the food and drink you may require for the length of your watch. Please note that the nearest toilet facilities are three miles away in John O’Groats.

      Download a watch form here.

      For further advice or to let us know you’d like to attend, please contact Anna.


      Every day of the week we will be at Duncansby Head surveying for cetaceans, we would welcome volunteers to join us and also for watches to take place outside of these hours. The times of our set watches are:

      Saturday 20th May 11am until 5pm

      Sunday 21st May 1pm until 7pm

      Monday 22nd May 1pm until 7pm

      Tuesday 23rd May 9am until 5pm

      Wednesday 24th May 10am until 6pm

      Thursday 25th May 10am until 6pm

      Friday 26th May 9am until 5pm

      Saturday 27th May 10am until 6pm

      Sunday 28th May 11am until 5pm.

    • Sat

      See timetableJohn O'Groats to Orkney ferry

      Ferry trips to spot orcas!

      Sea Watch Foundation will have staff and volunteers on as many trips as possible to collect data and you can help with the spotting – the more eyes the merrier!

      Fares: £18/19 (with transfer between port and Kirkwall). Children under 16 half price. Under 5’s, bicycles & dogs free.

      Please liaise with John O’Groats Ferries to book tickets and to assure your chosen trip is going ahead. 01955 611353 or book online jogferry.co.uk. There’s a provisional timetable above and please note that on 21 May there will be departures from John O’Groats at 8.45am & 10:30am only. The 10:30 boat will dock in Lyness (Hoy) before returning at 16:30pm


  • For Organisations

  • If your organisation would like to take part in Orca Watch, then please contact Anna Jemmett, a Sea Watch volunteer who is coordinating the event, on annajem@hotmail.co.uk. We would welcome public awareness events as well as extra help with the watches, or please let us know if you have any other ideas too!

    x 13-5-15Killer whale in the Pentland Firth. Photo by Colin Bird/ Sea Watch Foundation

Join in on social media #SWFOrcaWatch  


Thank you for getting involved!


The Team at Sea Watch Foundation