Orca Watch returns

Orca - Pic credit Peter G H Evans
Alan Robertson

Scientists and volunteers are joining together for Orca Watch this May. 

Organised by Sea Watch Foundation, Orca Watch is a ten-day event taking place across Caithness and North Sutherland, Orkney and Shetland, bringing volunteers, tourists and citizen scientists together to conduct land-watches, take boat trips, attend local events and try to catch a glimpse of the biggest member of the dolphin family, the iconic orca.

Orca Watch 2024 kicks off formally on Saturday 25th May with an evening of talks at the Lyth Arts Centre, Wick on the 27th. During the week, land-watches will be taking place from Thurso to Wick and beyond. Throughout the week there will be various events taking place and, following the success of former online events, Sea Watch Foundation intend to livestream some events to bring the excitement of Orca Watch to those who can’t be there in person.

Orca Watch began in 2012, founded by Colin Bird, a former Regional Coordinator at Sea Watch Foundation. Following a bid to introduce underwater turbines in the Pentland Firth, Colin, in collaboration with Sea Watch Foundation, made the decision to establish an annual survey week to gather information on how orca, and other cetaceans use the area and therefore what the consequences of the turbine installation would be. The event has snowballed since then and is now an annual occurrence and aiming to raise awareness on the importance of conserving the diverse ecosystem that resides in the Pentland Firth.

Sea Watch Foundation has partnered up with a number of organisations and businesses to put together what promises to be a successful return to John O’Groats. These include (in no particular order): Northlink Ferry, Caithness SeaCoast, RSPB, Mammal Society, HWDT, CNSF, High Life Highland, Cabin at John O’Groats, Together Travel, SeaView Hotel, John O’Groats Campsite, Apartment 65B,Ferry View Campint, Windhaven B&B and Camping, Highland Haven and Pentland Lodge House.

Sea Watch Foundation are also encouraging people to support volunteer citizen scientists, tourists and local media by witnessing the passage of orcas and other cetaceans through the Pentland Firth.

You can visit their temporary base at the library at the John O’Groats Inn during the watch to find out more about when and where watches are taking place and browse the information and merchandise available.

Highlights from Orca Watch 2023:

  • Over 260 sightings of at least seven marine mammal species were recorded, including orcas, harbour porpoises, Risso's dolphins, bottlenose dolphins, minke whales, grey seals, and harbour seals.

  • A total of 56 orca sightings were recorded, with two pods successfully identified using individual recognition features.

  • Valuable data was collected on the distribution, abundance, and behaviour of marine mammals in the region.