May 25, 2016
A POD of six killer whales from Iceland has been spotted in the Moray Firth.
The animals were photographed by a local boat trip crew near Covesea on Monday, marking the most southerly point off Scotland’s east coast where Icelandic orcas have ever been seen.
At least three of the animals, which are members of the dolphin family rather than whales, were individuals known to conservationists. The unexpected appearance occurred during the annual Orca Watch, organised by the research charity Sea Watch Foundation (SWF).
The operation is carefully planned to coincide with the arrival of killer whales in the Pentland Firth and allows the team to collect data about orcas and other cetaceans that visit these northerly waters.
However, the Icelandic pod surfaced more than 60 miles to the south of the strait that divides Orkney from mainland Scotland, witnessed by SWF’s Alan Airey.
The surprise occurrence sparked a huge response on social media, with representatives of the Icelandic Orca Project confirming that three of the animals had been officially catalogued there.
Killer whales can be seen in several locations around Scotland. Those seen off northern and eastern coasts are migratory, following mackerel and herring shoals.
On the other side of the country is a small group of nine animals that are resident all year round. Known as the West Coast Community, they do not interact with the migratory pods and have never produced any offspring.
“Although this sighting is now the furthest south that individuals from the Icelandic population have been confirmed, other killer whale sightings have occurred in the Moray Firth and further south on many occasions,” said SWF sighting officer Kathy James.
SWF founder and director Dr Peter Evans added: “Members of a pod that has numbered up to 14 can be seen annually around the Hebrides of west Scotland, mainly in summer.
“The most famous of these is a mature male nicknamed John Coe that we have observed since at least 1980. It has a distinct nick towards the base of the dorsal fin, making it instantly recognisable, and a chunk out of its tail – possibly a shark bite. Sightings of John Coe have ranged from the Hebrides over to East Scotland, south to the northwest coast of Ireland and well into the Irish Sea off west Wales.”
This is the moment a lifeboat team from the North-east came face-to-face with killer whales.
The Peterhead Lifeboat team were returning from Inverness when the four crew members on board came across the whales at Kinnaird Head at Fraserburgh.
Wild killer whales are not considered to be a threat to humans, but there have been cases of them killing or injuring their handlers at marine theme parks.
The whales, thought to be Icelandic, are most commonly found in western North America, Patagonia, Norway, and New Zealand.
Peterhead lifeboat mechanic Alistair Wilson, who was on board, said: “At one point they were right beside the nose of the boat.
“This is the first time I have spotted them in this area.
“It was a very pleasant moment and we took time to take a couple of photos and to watch them at work.”
He added: “These small sightings are very pleasant and it’s very encouraging they want to be in the North-east.”