All about Orca Watch 2022

To help you plan for Orca Watch, take a look through these Frequently Asked Questions. Clicking on the plus sign at the right of the question reveals the answer. Please note that we will be updating this information as the event draws nearer, so if your question isn’t urgent, it is always worth checking back periodically to see if it has been answered.

Once you have looked through the information on this page, if you still have a question about the event, and you can’t see that it will be answered on this page in due course, or you have an urgent question, please contact orcawatch@seawatchfoundation.org.uk and we will do our best to help you.

Helpful information about Orca Watch

  • What is Orca Watch?

    Orca Watch is a ten-day event run by Sea Watch Foundation, to collect as much data as possible on the whales, dolphins and porpoises in the waters around Caithness and North Sutherland, Orkney and Shetland. To find out more about the background to Orca Watch, click here.

  • When is Orca Watch?

    Orca Watch 2022 will take place from Saturday 28th May to Sunday 5th June, 2022.

  • Who runs Orca Watch?

    Sea Watch Foundation runs Orca Watch, but with support from many organisations.

  • Where does Orca Watch take place?

    Orca Watch is based at John O’Groats, close to the main watch sites at Duncansby Head and Duncansby Stacks, but land watches will be taking place every day during daylight hours (weather conditions permitting) all around the Caithness and North Sutherland coast – from Strathy Point to Wick and perhaps beyond. And from the John O’Groats ferry.

    Click here to see a map of the watch sites on the mainland.

    Partners in Shetland and Orkney will also be running special Orca Watches during this week.

    Click here to find information about Orca Watch on Shetland.

    Click here to find information about Orca Watch on Orkney.

  • Will I see orca?

    There is no guarantee that you will see orca during Orca Watch. A lot depends on the weather conditions (even at the end of May it can get quite foggy and wet!) and being in the right place at the right time. Patience and luck also play a part. And a sighting could be as fleeting as a glimpse of a single dorsal fin in the far distance.

    Orca Watch has a good track record in sighting orca – it helps having lots of eyes watching the sea – but you can never say for sure. We are hoping to have volunteers along the coast conducting land watches to increase the potential of sighting and tracking orca and other cetaceans.

  • What might I see?

    This area of Scotland – from Strathy Point in the north down to Wick and beyond in the south (and including Orkney and Shetland) – is one of the best places in the UK to see whales, dolphins, porpoise, seals and many different seabird species. As well as orca, you have the chance to spot many other species of whale and dolphin from the shore, including the common minke and humpback whale, Risso’s, common and white-beaked dolphins and the harbour porpoise. For the bird aficionados, sightings of razorbills, puffins, fulmars, great skuas, terns and eider are possible too. But, of course, there are no guarantees – a lot depends on the weather, and being in the right place at the right time.

  • Can I volunteer to collect data for Orca Watch?

    Orca Watch is very much a citizen science project, and we welcome volunteers who wish to help by collecting effort-related data during Orca Watch.

    Our Orca Watch Volunteer Observer Scheme closed for applications on 4th March. However, you are still welcome to join land watches to help collect data during Orca Watch. If you are in the John O’Groats area, pop into the Orca Watch base at the library at the Inn at John o’Groats during Orca Watch, to see where land watches are taking place.

    For information about what is happening on Shetland and how to get involved, check out the Shetland page here.

    For information about what is happening on Orkney and how to get involved, check out the Orkney page here.

  • Do I need to buy a ticket or register to attend Orca Watch?

    No. Orca Watch is a free event, open to the public, and you don’t need to register to attend. Anyone can come along and see what is going on, and join in watching out for Orca, as well as other dolphins and whales. However, during the week there may be special evening events, which will be ticketed. Details of these events will be published here, on the Sea Watch website.

    Also, at the event we will be selling an event wristband, which entitles you to a discount on the John O’Groats scheduled ferry services to Burwick and back, as well as at the Cabin at John O’Groats and at Windhaven Shop/Cafe (subject to a minimum purchase of £10)

     

  • Where and what is the Orca Watch base?

    Orca Watch will be run out of Orca Watch base, at the library at the John O’Groats Inn.

    Open daily, here you can buy your event wristband (giving you a discount on the scheduled ferry services) and other souvenirs, meet the organisers, find out what is happening and what has been seen, and find out more about how the data collected at Orca Watch helps Sea Watch’s work to monitor and improve the conservation of cetaceans in UK waters.

     

  • When is Orca Watch base open?

    The Orca Watch base, which is in the library at the Inn at John O’Groats, will be open daily throughout Orca Watch, from Saturday 28th May to Sunday 5th June. Look for the banner outside!

    The planned opening hours are:

    Saturday 28th May – 8:15 am – 3:45 pm

    Sunday 29th May – Thursday 2nd June – 8:15 am – 6:30pm

    Friday 3rd June – 8:15 am – 5:30pm

    Saturday 4th June – 8:15 am – 6:30 pm

    Sunday 5th June – 8:15 am – 6:30 pm

    Please note, we reserve the right to alter the hours during the week – particularly if there are orca to be seen! 

  • Where can I buy the Event Wristband and from when?

    The wristbands will be on sale at the Orca Watch base – the library at the bottom of the John O’Groats Inn – throughout Orca Watch, from 8.15am on the morning of 28th May, in time for the first ferry (cash and card), as well as at Windhaven Shop/Cafe from Monday 31st May to Saturday 4th June. (Cash only)

    A wristband costs £15 for adults,  £8 for 5-16 year-olds, and £1 for under £5s.

    Please note that the base will be closing early, at 3:45pm on Saturday 28th May, to allow time to prepare for the Evening of Talks.

    Wristbands will also be on sale at the Evening of Talks.

  • Can I watch from the John O’Groats ferry?

    Our partner, the John O’Groats passenger ferry, welcomes watchers on board their twice-daily scheduled ferry services for a round trip from John O’Groats harbour to Burwick (Orkney) and back, to try and see orca further out at sea.

    The ferry takes around 40 minutes each way, with the first ferry leaving from John O’Groats at 8:45am, returning to John O’Groats around 10:10am, and the second ferry leaving John O’Groats at 4.15 pm, returning to John O’Groats at around 6:10pm.

    Click here for more information about fares and the discount the Orca Watch wristband gives you on the scheduled ferry crossing.

    The ferry has also scheduled twice-daily wildlife cruises during Orca Watch week at 11am and 2.30pm, lasting around 90 minutes. Click here to go to the ferry’s website and find out more.

    Tickets are on a first come first served basis.

  • How much does the ferry cost?

    The normal fare for a return trip on the John O’Groats ferry is £32 per person. However, the ferry company generously supports Orca Watch by giving a 75% discount on the return trips to Orca Watchers. These special tickets allow you to cross on the 0845 ferry or the 16.15 ferry from John O’Groats and return back to John O’Groats on the next ferry only. These tickets are now available to book at https://jogferry.digitickets.co.uk/tickets. To qualify for the discount, you need to have purchased the event wristband and wear it on the crossing – the ferry company will be carrying out random checks. You can buy your event wristband at the event from the Orca Base. Click here for more information on buying your wristband.

    Also during Orca Watch, the wildlife cruises will be offered to all at a reduced price of £15. Buy these online direct from the ferry company. Click here to go to the ferry’s website to find out more.

  • What else will be taking place as part of Orca Watch?

    We’ll be formally launching Orca Watch with our ever-popular opening night of orca-themed talks at the Pulteney Centre, Wick. Click here for more information.

    We’ll be livestream the evening, as we did for Orca Watch 2021.* So if you are unable to join us on the night, and for those based in Shetland and Orkney, click here for information on how to access the livestream.

    From Monday 30th May – Thursday 2nd June, and on Saturday 4th June, at 7pm we will be livestreaming a short, daily roundup programme live from the Orca Watch base, discussing what has been seen at Orca Watch that day, on the mainland and around Orkney, Shetland. On Sunday 5th June this programme will be a little earlier, at 6.30pm. Details of how to access these programmes can be found here.

    We also hope to take part in a beach clean, organised by the rangers from High Life Highland, as well as some organised walks.

    Those planning to be in Orkney on 28th May might like to head to Scapa Beach for Marine Mammal Day.

    *(Click here for a summary and  schedule of the Orca Watch Live programmes produced in Orca Watch 2021. All apart from the Evening of Talks can still be seen here, on the Sea Watch Foundation’s YouTube channel.)

  • Can I park at the two main sites – John O’Groats and Duncansby Head/Stacks?

    There is a large car park in the centre of John O’Groats. The fee for parking is £2 per vehicle per day. The money raised goes to the non-profit John O’Groats development fund, working to improve the look and feel of John O’Groats and the surrounding open land and areas.

    There is a small, currently free car park at Duncansby Head. There are no facilities at the Head. Duncansby Stacks are a short walk away – there is no parking at the Stacks.

    Please park responsibly, especially when the site is crowded. Tourist Coaches need to be able to turn around in the car-park.

    Overnight parking at the Duncansby Head car park is prohibited by the landowner.

  • How do I get to watch sites on the mainland if I came by Public Transport?

    Several watch sites are close to John O’ Groats either by walking, public transport or a combination of both. Please remember though that public transport may not be as frequent as you are used to back home, due to the remote location.

    If you are on our Orca Watch Volunteer Observer Scheme, travelling to a watch site to conduct a scheduled watch, we will try and partner you with someone who has space in their car, although this cannot be guaranteed (and is subject to any social distancing requirements in force at the time).

  • What services are there at John O’Groats?

    There are public toilets at John O’Groats car park – these are the nearest to Duncansby Head and Stacks. They are free but ask for a voluntary donation. There are places to eat (both sit in and take-away) at and near John O’Groats. There is a post office and general store at John O’Groats. The nearest supermarkets are in Thurso or in Wick.

  • Can I bring my children?

    Absolutely. We welcome under-18s, and invite them to join in watches, but you are responsible for their safety at all times, including at the watches. Also, please bear in mind that the area is quite remote, with few facilities outside the main urban centres of Thurso and Wick.

  • Can I bring my dog?

    Yes. But please note that some land watches will be on or near farmland, so even well-behaved dogs will need to be restrained in line with local regulations. The John O’Groats passenger ferry welcomes small, quiet dogs – but bear in mind the ferry is likely to be full with excited Orca Watchers which your dog may find scary!

  • How do I get to John O’Groats?

    The following information is from the visitjohnogroats.com website.

    BY ROAD: Travel from Inverness on the A9 to Latheron in Caithness, then follow the A99 to Wick, travel through Wick and at Reiss turn right to John O’Groats, still on the A99, straight on to the ‘End of the road’.

    BY BUS: Daily bus services run from Inverness bus station to Wick and Thurso. Then use local services to John O’Groats. A ferry bus also runs from Inverness to John O’Groats direct.

    BY RAIL: There is a direct service from Inverness to Wick and Thurso 3 times a day, Monday to Saturday all year, and a limited Sunday service from June to September. Take the local bus service to John O’Groats.

    BY AIR: The nearest airport is Wick (Wick Airport Terminal Tel: 01955 602215) or Inverness.

  • How accessible is the event?

    Direct access to Orca Base (in the library at the bottom of the Inn at John O’Groats) involves negotiating three steps. There is an alternative side entrance, via the fire exit, for those in wheelchairs or who find stairs challenging. Access to the ferry is via a flat gangway, so is suitable for less mobile passengers or those in wheelchairs. There is parking close to the harbour and at Duncanbsy Head. Some other sites are more difficult to access – involving 10-15 minute walks from a car park along rugged, often steep, unmade paths. The area is quite remote, with few facilities outside the main urban centres of Thurso and Wick. We will set out the details of each watch site in due course. Any formal event we hold during the week will be held in premises that are fully accessible. Please contact us – orcawatch@seawatchfoundation.org.uk – for any other information and we will help in any way we can.

  • How can I find out about accommodation on the mainland?

    First, check out our list of Official Accommodation Partners . If you need more ideas, you might want to look at www.visitjohnogroats.com and/or www.visitscotland.com

  • Can I wild camp on the mainland?

    Under Scotland’s access rights, you can ‘wild’ camp, but should adhere to the Scottish Outdoor Access Code. You can find the code, and what is meant by ‘wild’ camping, by following this link: www.outdooraccess-scotland.scot/practical-guide-all/camping.

    Scotland’s access rights do not include motor vehicles.  If public or private land owners restrict or regulate parking on their land, you must comply with this. Currently overnight parking at the Duncansby Head car park is prohibited by the landowner.

  • What about Orkney and Shetland?

    Thanks to our partners and volunteers on Orkney and Shetland, watches will be taking place here too.

    For information about what is happening on Shetland and how to get involved, check out the Shetland page here.

    For information about what is happening on Orkney and how to get involved, check out the Orkney page here.