John Coe and Aquarius. Credit: Hebrides Cruises
John Coe and Aquarius. Credit: Hebrides Cruises

Scotland’s whales: Two orcas spotted off coast of Ardnamurchan

A rare sighting of two killer whales off the coast of Ardnamurchan has been captured on video. 

The orcas John Coe and Aquarius belong to Scotland’s only known resident pod of killer whales.

The duo was spotted by Rob Barlow, Owner of Hebrides Cruises who was skippering one of the company’s three vessels, Elizabeth G at the time.

Their distinct appearance, including the deep nick near the base of John Coe’s dorsal fin and the missing chunk in his tail fluke (believed to be from a shark attack), makes them easily recognisable.

The West Coast Community of killer whales, first documented by Dr Andy Foote in the early 2000s, is a unique and highly vulnerable population. 

Unlike any other killer whale group in the northeastern Atlantic, they are about a metre larger and have a distinctive eye patch orientation.

Sadly, the population has dwindled over the years, with John Coe and Aquarius believed to be the last remaining members.

‘Seeing John Coe and Aquarius was a profoundly emotional moment,’ said Rob. 

‘My very good friend and colleague, the late Richard Fairbairns from Mull was a pioneer in whale watching and conservation and founded one of the UK’s first whale watching companies, Sea Life Surveys. 

‘Richard was also founder of the Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Conservation Trust, based on the island and was actually involved in naming John Coe in the 1980s.

Richard’s son James is part of our family business and a Hebrides Cruises Skipper with a deep connection to the west coast waters and wildlife so this feels like a very special moment indeed and one I’m very proud to share.  

‘Capturing these photos this morning felt like a real tribute to Richard Fairbairn’s legacy.’

In the August edition of Scottish Field, wildlife writer Andy Dobson explores if toxic chemicals in the water means time is running out for the orcas that hunt in the waters around Scotland’s coastlines.


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