Communities monitor west coast killer whales

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It is an incredible time for whale watching in the Hebrides. Over the last two weeks there have been over 13 sightings of killer whales, totaling 53 animals recorded. This is a fantastic showcase of the importance of the Hebrides for this enigmatic species, and highlights the power of citizen science for monitoring these amazing animals.

Killer whales are difficult to study in Scotland, especially as they are able to cover such large distances. Scientists depend on the public to send in details of their sightings and social media plays a huge role in the sharing of this information. Photographs are especially important, as images of the killer whale’s fins are used to identify and match the animals, allowing researchers to track their movements, in a non-invasive way.

This July, sightings have been a mix of individual animals and large pods, with encounters stretching from Cape Wrath in the north, out to St Kilda in west and down to Ardnamurchan in the Inner Hebrides. At Tiumpan Head on Lewis, Whale and Dolphin Conservation’s (WDC) dedicated Shorewatch volunteers, spotted groups of up to 10 animals last weekend, swimming within one kilometer of the headland. Additionally, Summer Queen Cruises, based out of Ullapool had a group of at least five animals, with one calf whilst out last Saturday and the large male from this pod has been identified as ‘Busta’ from the Northern Isles Community. This group are often seen around Orkney, Shetland and northern Scotland, feeding in the rich waters, on schooling fish, as well as seals.

Further south, HWDT received reports of local celebrity John Coe, one of the most distinctive male killer whales in the West Coast Community. Amazing footage, captured by local fisherman Kenny Turnbull clearly shows his distinctive notched dorsal fin, as he surfaced off Ardnamurchan Lighthouse last Sunday. Kenny also witnessed him feeding, on what we suspect to be a harbour porpoise, believed to be the main diet of this small pod of animals. Later that day guests onboard Majestic Line’s vessel Glen Etive, were also treated to a sighting of John Coe off Eigg, before he later headed out towards the Minch. With just eight surviving members for the West Coast Community, these sightings are a rare treat.

If you are lucky enough to spot a killer whale, or any other whale, dolphin or porpoise, in the Hebrides then please report your sighting to us, and help contribute to our understanding of these incredible animals. By the end of the month, you will be able to download our new sightings app for free, from the App Store and Google Play, which will make recording encounters even quicker and easier.