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 6th 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. Partners in Shetland and Orkney will also be running special Orca Watches during this week.

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

  • 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.

    We will be launching our Orca Watch Volunteer Watcher Scheme at the beginning of December.

  • 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.

    More details about the exact opening hours of the base, and the souvenirs available, will be published here nearer the time.

  • 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.

    Details of how to get the wristband and any other discounts it can earn you will be published nearer the event.

  • 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 watch from the John O'Groats ferry?

    Our partner, the John O’Groats passenger ferry, welcomes watchers on board their 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 has also scheduled twice-daily wildlife cruises during Orca Watch week at 11am and 2.30pm. 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 0845am ferry or the 16.15 ferry from John O’Groats and return back to John O’Groats on the next ferry only. These tickets will be available online much closer to the event. 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.

    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 around John O'Groats?

    Apart from collecting data or looking out for orca around the coast, we are planning some orca-themed evenings during the week, including our ever-popular opening night of orca-themed talks. We also intend to live-stream some programming, as we did for Orca Watch 2021. (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.)

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

    Full details of the programme will be published nearer the time.

  • 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 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 Watcher 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).

  • 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 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • What about Orkney and Shetland?

    Thanks to our partners and volunteers on Orkney and Shetland, watches will be taking place here too. Details of how to get involved will be published in due course and we will be creating separate “frequently asked questions” for Orkney and Shetland shortly.