Monday 16th July was an exciting day for watchers up in North Scotland, with several pods of killer whales (Orcinus orca) seen near John O’Groats and the Isle of Stroma.
The whales were first heard blowing by a crew member of the John O’Groats ferry at 7:50am; they were sighted around 300ft away in the harbour, with builders working nearby reporting a total of 15 individuals.
Ivor Thomas, a crew member of the John O’Groats ferry saw the whales shortly after 8am and gave us his account:
“We delayed starting up the ferry engines until 8:40am in case the noise disturbed the whales. A couple of the fishing boats from John O’Groats did go out and the whales went very close to one.
The whales were still in the same position at 10:30am, when we were back at Groats and remained there when we left, although a few were heading past the Ness by 10:45am. Some were very concentrated in a very specific area and kept appearing there for at least two hours.
There was a large male, slightly further out to sea and a pod of 4 Killer whales further to the east; one individual had a very cut down fin, and another had a flopped over fin.
When we got back at about 12:20pm we did not see any of the whales nearby.
At 2:30pm just as we were about to leave for our wildlife cruise we spotted the whales about 1 mile NE of the Ness of Duncansby Head. We headed in that general direction, but the whales had disappeared, one of the passengers spotted them about a mile or so east of Stroma. We had a really good sighting close to Stroma for quite some time watching about 10 whales, including the individual with the flopped over fin.
At the North end of Stroma, we saw the pod group again, very close to seals on the shore.
At about 7:15pm, we were heading south on the last crossing and noticed fins ahead. We ended up very close to the whales and realised it was the same pod of about 10, with the individual with the folded fin; they were slowly heading North East.”
Killer whales can be regular visitors to Northern Scotland, but do not usually come so close to shore. It is likely that these individuals were hunting seals in the area. For more information on Killer whales and how to identify them click here.
This latest sighting comes as Sea Watch is preparing for its annual National Whale and Dolphin Watch, which is taking place from July 27-29. Sea Watch co-ordinators, accredited boat operators and organisations and volunteers across the UK. Members of the public can join organised watches, or accredited boat operator trips, or grab their binoculars download sightings forms and watch from any point on the coast. For a list of organised watches in your area click here.