Hebridean Orca pod spotted off Western Ireland.West coast killer whale on the move
JULY 2009. With the National Whale and Dolphin Watch underway, there has been exciting news for whale watchers with confirmation that the killer whale (orca) pod that is normally seen in the Hebrides of Scotland has been spotted some 400 kilometres away off western Ireland. The pod included four that are well-known to scientists who have called them John Coe, Floppy Fin, Nicola and Aquarius.
Seen off the Hebrides since 1990s
"John Coe" was originally named by Christopher Swann of Western Isles Sailing Company on a Sea Watch survey in the early 1990s, and is known to have ranged around the Hebrides since at least the late 1980s when he was regularly seen by different groups, including Sea Watch, Sea Life Surveys, and the Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust (HWDT) until 2000. He then disappeared from view until being seen in a pod of 10 orcas between Tory Island and Malin Head, County Donegal, in September 2004, and again off the Pembrokeshire coast in June 2008.
The latest sighting of him, in a pod of four (thought to be all from the Hebridean group), was at the mouth of Galway Bay, between the Aran Islands and Black Head by the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group (IWDG) and confirmed by Sea Watch
Second pod of Orcas
On the same day, another pod of orcas, two males and three females, was sighted off Erris Head, Co. Mayo, heading east towards the Stags of Broadhaven. Two of the males were also well known to Hebridean watchers, as "Floppy Fin" and "Aquarius" and one of the females was "Nicola".
The sightings, say Sea Watch Director Peter Evans, who has worked closely with both IWDG and HWDT over many years to collate sightings and identify individual whales, suggest that the whole of this Hebridean killer whale community might have been on the move to distant pastures.
The piecing together of the movements of this group of killer whales was achieved through collaboration between the Irish Whale & Dolphin Group, Aberdeen University, Hebridean Whale & Dolphin Trust and Sea Watch Foundation
Wide ranging animals
Sea Watch research director Dr Evans said: "What they were doing off County Mayo remains a mystery, but as elsewhere, these killer whales clearly regularly range over a very wide area. We have in the past followed this pod travelling more than 100 kms in a single day down the entire chain of the Hebrides, and we've observed these individuals shift from feeding upon herring to going after seals.
"We hope that during National Whale and Dolphin watch, when more people will be looking out, that we might receive further reports and photographs that might help us better understand their movement patterns.
"The collaboration of different research groups and the help of individuals in reporting and photographing sightings are vital throughout the year if we are to understand the behaviour of whales, dolphins and harbour porpoises around our coast and develop appropriate and effective conservation policies."
Killer whales can live to at least 80-90 years, and Floppy Fin has been seen in the Hebrides many times over the last 20 years along with Nicola and Aquarius and the others.
Sea Watch, a marine research charity, organises National Whale and Dolphin Watch which this year is being held from July 18-26. Anyone can take part and details are on www.seawatchfoudnation.org.uk
In total, 28 different species of whales, dolphins and porpoises have been recorded in UK and Irish waters, with 13 species known to live around or regularly visit our coasts.
The National Whale and Dolphin Watch, sponsored by BG, is now in its eighth year.