West Coast Community killer whales on the BBC One Show

HWDT Biodiversity Officer_Nienke van Geel_14.9.09 (7).JPG

You might have heard us mentioned on the BBC One Show last night and part two is due to air tonight (13th September). We wanted to give you a little bit more information about the West Coast Community and the Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trusts (HWDT) research on this fascinating group of animals.

The Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust (HWDT) have been collating sightings data about the West Coast Community since 1992 using a non-intrusive research method known as photo-identification (photo-ID).  Photo-ID uses photographs of natural markings or features on an animals’ body, such as the unique shape of their dorsal fins,  to identify individual animals. Over time this analysis provides insights into their behaviour, movements and complexities of their social structure.

Members of the West Coast Community are identifiable from other groups of killer whales that can be seen around Scotland by their unusual sloping eye patch and larger size. Each individual in the group is recogniseable by the unique shape of their dorsal fins as well as the coloration and shape of the saddle patch (the pale grey area behind the dorsal fin). Female killer whales have much smaller dorsal fins than males, whose dorsal fins can get up to 2 metres tall!  The West Coast Community originally contained ten individuals, but now number just eight (four females, four males) following the death of Moon (2008) and Lulu (2016). Some individuals, have however not been seen in recent years and in all the years we have been following this group we have never seen them with a calf.

Killer whales are difficult to study in Scotland, especially as they are so few and are able to cover such large distances. HWDT depends on the public to send in details and photographs of their sightings,which allows our researchers to identify which individuals have been seen. The Hebrides is an important area for this enigmatic species, and HWDT's research highlights the power of citizen science for monitoring these amazing animals.

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. You can download Whale Track, HWDT's sightings app, for free from the App Store and Google Play, which makes recording sightings quick and easy.

The West Coast Community Photo-ID Catalogue