The West Coast Orcas
About the West Coast Community of Orcas in the Hebrides
This pod of Orcas is considered the only resident pod in UK waters and therefore, in theory, can be seen at any time of the year. It is also considered the most endangered pod in the world due to no calves been born for over 20 years now. This is unlikely to change as they are also thought to be too old to sire calves now.
The entire pod only numbers 8 animals and they are very rarely seen all together. They split up into satellite pods of 2-6 animals probably because of the abundance and seasonal distribution of their prey species, marine mammals.
Like all other Orcas that predate on marine mammals, their range is huge and they don’t hang around in any particular areas for any length of time as they are ambush predators and have to search out their prey.
Some members of the pod have been photo identified as far away as Galway in Ireland and just this year (2014) were spotted on the east coast of Scotland for the first time.
They do appear to follow traditional foraging routes like many other Orca pods do in their home ranges, and have been reported on numerous occasions following trawlers in the North Minch for several hours.
What we do on especially our 4-hour cruises is cross many of their known foraging routes over by the North End of the Isle of Skye and over by the Shiant Islands near the Outer Hebrides which is where they are mostly spotted in our area.
Sightings are obviously unpredictable, but they can potentially be seen on any of our offshore cruises due to their foraging behaviour. When we do find them due to the Skipper’s knowledge of their habits we often re-locate them on the next cruise if we have one and we have a lot of trawlers that will call immediately if they are seen in our area or heading towards our area.
To summarise, you have to be lucky to see them, but we are certainly one if not the most likely boat on the West Coast of Scotland to encounter these apex predators. Having monitored all recorded sightings of our Orcas for many years, now there seem to be regular sightings in our search area between the last week in August and the first week of September for at least the last 5 years. So if I were going to recommend any time of the year then that would be it. There are also two more pods that have been spotted in our area, the Northern Community that usually forages around the Northern Isles and an as yet unidentified pod that we photographed and filmed a few years ago.
So that’s the honest rundown of sighting Orcas out with us!
Cheers, Nick Davies.