Orca Watch Volunteer Observer Scheme – your questions answered

We hope that the information on this page will answer at least some of your questions about the Orca Watch Volunteer Observer scheme. 

Clicking on the plus sign to the right of the question gives you the answer.  Once you have looked through the information on this page, if you still have a question about the scheme that you need to be answered before applying, then please email orcawatch@seawatchfoundation.org.uk and we will do our best to help you. 

If you are ready to apply for the scheme, then click here.

Please note that the scheme is centred on the mainland. If you are planning to be in Orkney and/or Shetland during Orca Watch, there will be opportunities to take part in land watches there and to take part in the pre-event training – please get in touch by emailing orcawatch@seawatchfoundation.org.uk.

Orca Watch Volunteer Observer FAQs

  • How many Orca Watch Volunteer Observers will be in the scheme?

    We are looking to recruit between 40 and 50 Orca Watch Volunteer Observers. Too many will mean we won’t be able to support you as much as we would like.

  • How will you select the Volunteer Observers?

    If more than 50 people apply, then preference will be given to:

    1. those who applied for the scheme in both 2020 and 2021, when the scheme was cancelled due to Covid, and are planning to attend the whole or most of the event;
    2. those who applied for the scheme in either 2020 or 2021, and are planning to attend the whole or most of the event;
    3. others who are planning to attend the whole or most of the event.
  • When will I know if I have been accepted on the scheme?

    The scheme will be open for applications until 6pm Friday 4th March.
    We will let you know whether or not you have been accepted on the scheme by 6pm Friday 18th March. At that time, if you have been accepted on the scheme, we will ask you for payment of the £25 registration fee. (£5 for an accompanied teenager.)

  • Can I still take part in watches if I am not accepted on the scheme?

    Yes, you are still most welcome to come along to watches to find out more and to support the Orca Watch Volunteer Observers.

  • What if my plans change after I have been accepted and paid my fee?

    We hope you will understand that the fee is non-refundable, and will go towards supporting Orca Watch and Sea Watch’s ongoing work.

  • How many days do I have to commit to as a volunteer observer?

    As many as you can.

    If more than 50 people apply, then preference will be given to:

    1. those who applied for the scheme in both 2020 and 2021, when the scheme was cancelled due to Covid, and are planning to attend the whole or most of the event;
    2. those who applied for the scheme in either 2020 or 2021, and are planning to attend the whole or most of the event;
    3. others who are planning to attend the whole or most of the event.
  • What time do land watches start and finish?

    Sightings of cetaceans can often be seen early morning and evening so the plan would be to run four formal watches per day starting around 08:30 and finishing around 18:30. Each watch will be a maximum of two hours – two in the morning and two in the afternoon. There will be a break between each watch. We anticipate that teams will run either the morning or afternoon watches at various key locations during the week. This leaves you free for the rest of the day to do your own spotting or go on a ferry trip.

  • Can I collect data from the ferry?

    The ferry company supports us by allowing us three free spots for our data collectors on each return ferry crossing and on each wildlife cruise. Therefore, there will be opportunities to collect data from the ferry, as well as from land.

  • Do watches take place in all weathers?

    Land watches will only be initiated when the Sea State is suitable – sea state 3 (occasional white caps) or  below – and when the wind speed is at a safe level.

    The ferry usually sails regardless of the weather, but again, watches should only take place when the sea state is suitable.

    More information on how to assess whether or not to proceed with a watch – whether from land or sea – will be given in the training.

  • How are watches allocated?

    We will do our best to allocate land-watches based on your preferences and location, as stated on your registration form. Ferry watches have proved extremely popular in previous years. If you state you wish to collect data from the ferry, we will do what we can to put you on the data collection team for at least one ferry watch.

    For both land and ferry watches, we aim to have teams of at least three – a team leader (experienced) and two less experienced members.

  • When will I know what watches I have been allocated?

    After the training and before the event starts, we will issue a draft schedule based on people’s preferences. This will be finalised at the start of the week. During the event, come to Orca Watch base or contact the volunteer coordinator if you have any questions about your watches.

  • How do I get to watch sites if I come 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.

    As an Orca Watch Volunteer Observer travelling to a site to do your watch, we will try and partner you with someone who has space in their car, although this cannot be guaranteed.

    We will also bear in mind your location and travel situation when allocating watches.

  • What do I need to bring with me for a watch?

    You suggest that you should have with you:

    • A pair of binoculars. (Magnification should be anywhere between 7 and 10 times. 7x magnification usually has better light-gathering, which can be particularly useful over the sea, while 10x is better for picking out details. For many, 8x is a good compromise.)
    • Warm, waterproof and windproof clothing – the weather in the region can change very quickly and there may be times when you find yourself caught in wind or rain.
    • A flask for water / a hot drink
    • Snacks.
    • Ideally, a smartphone with the Sea Watcher App downloaded to it (we will cover this in the training sessions) and a portable charger for the smartphone.
  • How is the data collected?

    We will train you via zoom prior to the event on our methods of data collection, our protocols and cetacean identification.

  • When will the online training take place?

    We will confirm the training dates nearer the time. We will do our best to arrange the training to suit as many as possible. They are likely to be held in the evening to cater for people’s day-jobs.

  • How long will the training sessions be?

    We are still working out the details, but each session is likely to last no more than one and a half hours, and there will be no more than three sessions.

  • What if the event or the scheme has to be cancelled?

    We sincerely hope that Orca Watch 2022 can go ahead, complete with the Orca Watch Volunteer Observer scheme. However, we do reserve the right to cancel the event and/or the Scheme should circumstances dictate that we cannot successfully hold it – for example if there is another wave of Covid infection which would severely impact our ability to hold a safe and successful event.  If we have to cancel the scheme (and/or Orca Watch itself) after you have paid the registration fee, we would ask that, were you in a position to do so, you turn your fee into a donation towards the ongoing work of Sea Watch. We would be extremely grateful. Otherwise we would, of course, refund the fee to you.