Orcas near Shetland
Orcas near Shetland

Binoculars at the ready to watch the orcas pass

All eyes are on the sea for the annual Orca Watch, which is currently underway.

The staff of the Sea Watch Foundation are conducting watches and collecting records of the orcas passing through the Pentland Firth.

The 2019 event  runs until 26 May and people from all walks of life are still being invited to join the dedicated volunteers for watches throughout this time.

Three sightings of orcas were reported around Caithness last week, including the sight of a well-known group of orcas which regularly visits, and which travel south from Iceland to Shetland, and Scotland in search of food.

Now in its eighth year this event originated from the collaboration between Sea Watch Foundation and their former regional coordinator Colin Bird.

Watches are being conducted at Duncansby Head, Caithness, the main view point, around Orkney and Shetland (times and locations can be found online at www.seawatchfoundation.org.uk/orca-watch-2019/). There will also be volunteer observers onboard the John O’Groats ferry (connecting mainland to Orkney), collecting sightings and effort data.

More than two thousand people have contributed sightings to the Sea Watch Foundation’s National Database that currently comprises over 60,000 records, making it one of the largest and longest-running sightings schemes in the world.

Orca Watch features collaborations with other groups including: Whale and Dolphin Conservation (WDC), Scottish Natural Heritage, John O’Groats Ferries, Pulteney 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.

Sightings should be reported HERE.

Dr Chiara Giulia Bertulli, Sea Watch sightings officer and lead organiser of this year’s event, said: ‘Being able to sight so many different cetacean species in Caithness, Orkney and Shetland so close to shore is something truly amazing!

Orcas near Shetland

‘What we hope for is to be able to collect sightings data involving members of the general public, helping each other while sharing skills.’

The north coast of Scotland is one of the best places to see whales, dolphins, porpoise and many different seabird species in the UK. As well as the orca, many other species of whale and dolphin can be seen from the shore including the common minke and humpback whale, Risso’s, common and white-beaked dolphins and the harbour porpoise. For the bird aficionados, sightings of razorbills, puffins, fulmars, great skuas, and terns are possible too.

An Orca Watch beach clean will also be organised at Sannick Beach on May 22 in collaboration with the Highlife Highland Countryside Rangers. A cetacean talk will be given to the kids at the Canisbay Primary School on May 24 too.

Full details of all Orca Watch events can be found HERE.