Wildlife enthusiasts flock to far north of Scotland to spot killer whales and dolphins

Wildlife enthusiasts have travelled from all over the country to the far north of Scotland in the hope of glimpsing the ocean’s top predator – the killer whale, or orca.

This year’s Orca Watch – a week-long annual survey of whales, and dolphins and porpoises organised by Sea Watch Foundation – kicks off today across Caithness, north Sutherland, Orkney and Shetland.

Marking its ten-year anniversary, the event will be held ‘in person’ for the first time in two years after disruption caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, with hundred of people expected to take part.

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Sea Watch Foundation will be based at John O’Groats for the duration of Orca Watch, with participants being asked to look out for orcas and other cetaceans from viewpoints on shore and at sea across the region.

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Land-based watches will be taking place from Strathy Point to Wick and beyond. The John O’Groats ferry – a key partner in the initiative – will be welcoming spotters aboard regular services and special wildlife cruises put on for Orca Watch.

As well as spotting activities, a series of events are being staged throughout the week, with some available online so people who cannot make the trip can join in.

As well as providing valuable data on Scotland’s important marine life, the organisers say the event provides a wonderful opportunity for people to see what must be one of the most iconic animals.

Orcas, known as killer whales, are actually the largest of the dolphin family of cetaceans and the top predator in the ocean. Picture: Steve Truluck

Katie Baker, communication and outreach officer for Sea Watch Foundation, has arrived in John O’Groats.

She explains Orca Watch and the charity’s other annual survey, National Whale and Dolphin Watch, which takes place in summer, aim to create “a snapshot” of all cetacean sightings in a short burst of time and highlight the need to look after Scotland’s marine wildlife.

“The event aims to raise awareness on the importance of conserving the diverse eco-system that resides in the Pentland Firth,” she said.

People will be watching for cetaceans from sites on land and at sea in the far north of Scotland during Orca Watch. Steve Sankey

“It aims to highlight the need to conserve and protect the iconic orca around the UK through monitoring their distribution, status and abundance. At Sea Watch Foundation, we aim to collect as much data as possible and get a wider picture of all the cetaceans in British and Irish waters.”

The north-east coast of Scotland is a haven for marine mammals and bird life, with orcas (pictured), minke and humpback whales, Risso’s, white-beaked and Atlantic white-sided dolphins, and harbour porpoises all possible to spot from shore. Picture: Chloe Robinson
The John O'Groats ferry is operating special Orca Watch cruises as well as encouraging volunteers to look out for dolphins and whales from aboard its regular services. Picture: Steve Truluck
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