Friday 17th May – Sunday 26th May 2019
If you were worried that you missed the opportunity to take part into the Sea Watch Foundation’s Orca Watch event this year, then never fear – The Sea Watch Foundation in collaboration with Regional Coordinators in Scotland, Orkney and Shetland, and with Whale and Dolphin Conservation (WDC) will be organizing their very successful 2019 event again in May 2019.
The 2019 Orca Watch event will take place on the 17th-26th May in Caithness, around the Orkney and Shetland Isles!
Sea Watch Foundation in collaboration with their former Regional Coordinator Colin Bird have been organizing an annual national recording event, the Orca Watch for the past 7 years. The idea of organizing this event originated from the possibility of underwater turbines installed in the Pentland Firth, which initiated the first seasonal watch to gather information on how killer whales use this area and what might be the consequences of such an installation. This year’s 10 day-long event will see hundreds of whale enthusiast volunteers scanning the sea of the Pentland Firth to try catch a glimpse of orcas, and any other cetacean species passing by. This annual event has been created to increase public awareness of how and when orcas utilise waters of the Pentland Firth during the summer months. This event also draws attention to the need for conservation, protection and continued research into the status, distribution, and abundance of this iconic whale species around the UK.
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.
The Sea Watch Foundation staff would like to thank in advance the following organizations that are greatly contributing to the success of this year’s Orca Watch: Whale and Dolphin Conservation (WDC), Scottish Natural Heritage, John O’Groats Ferries, Pulteneytown People’s Centre, RSPB wardens at Marwick Head, Sanday Development Trust, organizers of the Orkney Nature Festival, High Life Highland Countryside Rangers and Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust.
Finally, thanks to all Orca Watch volunteers who have contacted the event organizers and who are going to help making this event a great success!
This year, whilst our main base will be Dunscansby Head, we’re looking for your help to expand the data collection to other sites in North Scotland, Orkney and Shetland. We’re hoping this will be a great way for locals to get involved on their own patch as well as giving you the flexibility to add to the event whenever suits you!
Organised watches feature on the event list below, but if you’d like to run a watch of your own at a recommended watch site please click here. Whilst you could certainly plan your own holiday around the event, we are only inviting you to join in with our surveys and other events and we cannot provide accommodation or travel.
If you’d like to be kept in the loop with plans for Orca Watch this year, or if you want to volunteer during the event, then please contact Sea Watch Lead Organizers, on firstname.lastname@example.org.
The John O’Groats Ferries company have agreed to offer Orca watchers a huge discount during Orca Watch.
Each journey, whether return or single, will cost £5/person (infants under 5 go free). That’s a saving of £14/journey. The discount can be applied to as many journeys as you like but only between May 17-26.
All ferry tickets must be purchased from the Ferry ticket office in John O’Groats in person during Orca watch.
To prove that you are an ‘Orca Watcher’ and are eligible for the discount you will need to be wearing an Orca Watch wristband which will be available during the event only. Wristbands will be sold at the ferry ticket office, on the headland and at the evening of talks in Wick.
200 silicone rubber wristbands will be available from the event organisers at Orca Watch. To get your Orca Watch wristband all we ask for is a cash donation at the event to Sea Watch or Whale and Dolphin Conservation or both (Minimum donation of £5, suggested of £10).
John O'Groats to Orkney (and back)
Sea Watch Foundation will have staff and volunteers on as many ferry trips between John O’Groats (Scotland) and Burwick (Orkney) as possible to collect data and you can help with the spotting – the more eyes the merrier!
If you are a first comer, remember to get in touch with the Sea Watch staff onboard the ferries, who will be happy to teach you how to identify whales and count in the wild, how to recognize the whale’s behaviour, and how to collect photo-identification images.
If you have close-up images of any cetacean species encountered during you ferry trip, get in touch with our Orca Watch Organizers at email@example.com. Your photo could help the Sea Watch Foundation monitor abundance, heath status and association patterns of whales and dolphins around the UK.
Duncansby Head (Grid Reference: ND 405 733)
Join the Sea Watch Foundation organizers and many other Orca Watchers as they watch for orcas!
You can come along for as little or as long as you like, but if you think you can stay up to an hour let the organizers know so they can get organized!
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.
Every day of the week the Sea Watch staff will be at Duncansby Head surveying for cetaceans and welcoming volunteers to join them and also for watches to take place outside of these hours.
Attached is the time schedule for land-watches at Duncansby Head:
Volunteer observers will be split into two groups which will conduct independent watches from Duncansby Head.
Each group will be given a Sea Watch Foundation’s land-watch data form to fill in, and which WOULD NEED TO BE RETURNED to the LEAD ORGANIZERS at the end of each watch, each day. Please do check this page to find out who the lead organizers are and to whom leave your data forms.
If you have questions contact the organizers on firstname.lastname@example.org.
Training will be provided on site!
At different locations in Shetland
Land watches will be organized around Shetland at the following sites:
Sumburgh Head, Mousa Sound, Noss Sound, Levenwick, Hillswick, and Fair Isle.
A confirmed time schedule for watches is available for Sumburgh Head, Levenwick, Hillswick and Mousa Sound. Here’s the list of them:
For more information about land-watches in Shetland, contact Karen.
At different locations in Orkney
Land watches will be organized around Orkney at the following sites:
1) South Ronaldsay: Burwick and Hoxa Head, 2) Mainland: Marwick Head, and Stromness, 3) Papa Westray, 4) Sanday: Ayre's Head.
At present the following watches are in Sanday:
18th May – 9.30am to 1.30pm Ayre’s Rock, Sanday
19th May – 10am to 2pm Ayre’s Rock, Sanday
20th May – 10.30am to 2.30pm Ayre’s Rock, Sanday
21st May – 11.30am – 2.30pm Ayre’s Rock, Sanday
22nd May – 12pm – 4pm Ayre’s Rock, Sanday
23rd May – 1pm to 5pm Ayre’s Rock, Sanday
24th May – 1.30pm to 5.30pm Ayre’s Rock, Sanday
Two more official watches will be conducted in Mainland Orkney, at the following locations:
20th May – 10am-2pm at Yesnaby
22nd May – 10.30am to 2.30pm Marwick Head
For more information about land-watches in Sanday and on Mainland Orkney, contact Emma.
Other land watches are likely to be conducted from Burwick, but there will be confirmed closer to the start of the event. If you want to join them, please do get in touch with Chiara.
3:30 – 4:30 pmHighland Haven, St Johns, East Mey, Thurso, Caithness KW14 8XL
Join Bronagh at St Johns Point and conduct a land watch with her and other volunteer observers! Bronagh owns the Highland Haven which is a self catering lodge at St Johns Point. If any other volunteers want to join her she is offering tea/coffee before her watch starts, donations also welcome! Her watch will start between 3.30pm and 4.30pm everyday apart from the 22nd. Volunteers can join her for tea/coffee at 4pm. Contact Bronagh today, get a copy of our forms here, and start looking out for whales and dolphins!
9:00 to 18:00 every dayDuncansby Head (Grid Reference: ND 405 733)
If you believe in good luck charms, you’ll like the hoodies and t-shirts that we have made for the Orca Watch event!Hoodies come in two colours (navy blue and light heather), t-shirts only in blue. Hoodies are £27.50 and come in S, M, Land XL. T-shirts come in the same sizes but they cost £8.50.They will be sold by Sea Watch’s Sightings Officer Chiara from May 17 to 26. Here’s a photo of Chiara, so get in touch with her on site and purchase a hoodie and a t-shirt for you:If you join her on May 18 in Wick during the evening of Orca talks you will have first pick!
Drop in any time during any scheduled land-watchDuncansby Head (Grid Reference: ND 405 733)
Drop in session with Sea Watch Foundation!
Come and learn how to survey for cetaceans and how to fill in the survey forms. A Sea Watch Foundation member of staff or an experienced Sea Watch volunteer observer will be available at Duncansby Head to help you with data collection and data entry. Meet new people and enjoy the stunning scenery.
Duncansby Head is 2 miles from John O Groats (where you will find the nearest toilet) and is the most North Easterly tip of Mainland UK. The site is very exposed and you will need to be warmly dressed and ready for the weather. The nearest toilet facilities are at John O’ Groats.
10:00 am – 12:00 pmGlengorm, Isle of Mull, PA75 6Q
The staff of the Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust are going to run a watch as part of Orca Watch on May the 23rd between 10 am and 12 noon.
They will meet at the Glengorm visitor centre at 10 am and proceed to the watch site from there.
For more information about this watch contact Siobhan.
Orca Watch (Facebook): https://www.facebook.com/groups/orcawatch/
Shetland Orca Sightings (Facebook): https://www.facebook.com/groups/shetlandorcasightings/
Orkney Cetacean Sightings (Facebook): https://www.facebook.com/groups/322499874791151/
Thank you for getting involved!