Orca Watch 2019

Friday 17th May – Sunday 26th May 2019


Designed by Josella Hunt
Designed by Josella Hunt

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!



What’s on?!

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 orcawatch@seawatchfoundation.org.uk.



  • Sat

    Duncansby Head, Caithness

    Duncansby Head is the main watch site for Orca Watch and volunteers will be stationed here each day of Orca Watch 2018.


    Duncansby Head Dedicated Orca Watches:



    Start Time

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    There are no facilities at the watch site, the nearest toilets are in John O’Groats. Please come well prepared with supplies and clothing!

    Contact lead volunteer, Anna Jemmett, for more details on annajem@hotmail.co.uk.

  • Sat

    10-4pmSumburgh Head Lighthouse, Visitor Centre and Nature Reserve

    There will be a watch at Sumburgh Head Lighthouse, as it is the first day of Orcawatch there will be a display about the different cetacean species found around the Shetlands organized by the Shetland Marine Mammal Group.

    There are toilets at the watch site, a car parking, and a visitor Centre with a cafe.

    No need to book, just turn up. Binoculars and a telescope would be useful, and make sure to wear lots of layers!

    Contact Karen Hall for more details on Karen.Hall@snh.gov.uk.

    Sumburgh Head_Shetland_

    Photo credit: Tore Kjelvik


  • Sat

    7:00 pmPultney People's Centre, Wick

    Marie Mrusczok from Orca Guardians, an independent conservation nonprofit dedicated to the protection of orcas in Iceland, will fly in from Iceland and she will provide valuable insight into the seasonal movements of orcas between Iceland and Scotland.

    ChiaraG Bertulli_poster Orca Guardians_2018

    There will be an introduction to Orca Watch by Sea Watch Foundation’s Sightings Officer.

    Tea and coffee provided.

    There is a small charge of £2 per person for this event.

  • Sat

    As per JOG ferry timetableJohn O'Groats – Burwick

    John O’Groats Ferries trips during Orcawatch

    The John O’Groats Ferry company have agreed to offer Orca-watchers a huge discount during Orca Watch week. 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 26th May and 2nd June.

    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.

    200 wristbands in 2 sizes 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 (Suggested minimum donation of £5).

    The wristbands are made from silicone rubber and are not for just this year’s event. Discounts and other offers may potentially be available next year too so keep your wristbands for future use!

    The Orca Watch Wristbands will be available ONLY from Orca Watch organisers at:

    1) Duncansby Head from 26th May until all gone;
    2)Pulteney People’s Centre, Wick after the Introductory talk by Orca Guardians Iceland on 26th May;
    3) At Burwick aboard the Pentland Venture, John O’Groats Ferries for passengers boarding from Orkney ONLY until they are all gone.

    To get your wristband:
    You will need to make a cash donation towards Sea Watch Foundation and WDC.

    The organisers will have donation boxes with them. The minimum donation is £5, but we suggest a donation of £9 and then buy 2 ferry tickets.

    That way for the normal price of a ferry single £19, you get 2 return trips aboard the Pentland Venture, a souvenir wristband, donate money to help whales and dolphins AND hopefully get an Orca sighting.

    Ferry tickets must be bought from the ferry office in John O’Groats or on the ferry at Burwick. Ferry tickets subject to availability on the day of purchase. There is currently plenty of availability but best to get your wristband and then your tickets as soon as you arrive.

    Orca Watch 2018 - Wristbands

    Orca Watch 2018 – Wristbands


    Orca and the John O'Groat's Ferry by Fred Fermor.

    Orcas are often seen close to the ‘Pentland Venture’ as it crosses the Pentland Firth between John O’ Groats on the mainland and Burwick on Orkney. Orca and other whales and dolphins were also seen from the ferry during last year’s Orca Watch.

    See the JOG ferry timetable here: http://www.jogferry.co.uk/Ferry.aspx

    Photo by Fred Fermor.

  • Sun

    2-5pmHoxa Head, South Ronaldsay

    The Sea Watch Foundation is pleased to offer an event for anyone in Orkney wishing to learn how to look for cetaceans from a land-based vantage point. The event is to be held at Hoxa Head on South Ronaldsay, on Sunday 27 May 2018 in the afternoon, between 2pm and 5pm.

    The event will be led by Steve Sankey of Orcadian Wildlife, helped by family members Sami and Sarah Sankey, and is free to members of the public. Hoxa Head is just beyond the village of St. Margaret’s Hope and may be accessed by the minor road heading beyond the Sands of Wright. There is a small car park at grid reference ND408934 and the path to Hoxa Head is a short circular walk around the headland. Just follow the footpath signs.

    Steve will be on station at the old searchlight housing at the Head itself and is confident about seeing cetaceans given good weather and a good sea state. He has recorded 6 species of whales and dolphins* from Hoxa over the years, and it’s a good reliable spot for Harbour porpoise. With luck and patience, Orcas may appear, as might several other species.

    No need to book, just turn up. Binoculars and a telescope would be useful, although there will be telescopes on site.

    * FYI: Harbour porpoise; Risso’s dolphin; Common dolphin; Orca; Minke whale; and Fin whale (the latter just once in 15 years!).

  • Wed

    7pm-9pmHillswick, Mousa Sound, Noss Sound, Sumburg Head, Eshaness, Nesting, Shetland

    There are car parking options at all watch sites but facilities are solely available at Sumburgh Head. Please come well prepared with supplies and clothing!

    For more information, you can call our regional coordinator for Shetland islands, Karen Hall,  during office hours at the following number: 01595 693345.

  • Fri

    11:45am- 4:45pmBurwick harbour, Orkney

    There are toilets at the watch site and a car park. Please come well prepared with supplies and clothing! The return ferry is at 17:15.

  • Sat

    10 – 12pmFair Isle, Shetland

    Details for this watch are still to be confirmed.

    For more information, you can call our regional coordinator for Shetland islands, Karen Hall,  during office hours at the following number: 01595 693345.

  • Sat

    11:45am- 4:45pmBurwick harbour, Orkney

    There are toilets at the watch site and a car park. Please come well prepared with supplies and clothing! The return ferry is at 17:15.

Join the Orca Watch Team on social media:

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!

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