Experts believe this is the first sighting of the UK’s only resident population of orcas travelling this far south. The orcas who have since been identified as ‘John Coe’ and ‘Aquarius’ by the Cornwall Wildlife Trust, were spotted and photographed by nature photographer Will McEnery-Cartwright.
Orcas are known as communicative, sociable, and intelligent animals who actually belong to the dolphin family – they are referred to as whales due to their size. They very rarely attack humans and the name “killer whale” originated with ancient sailors who saw them hunting in groups to take down large whales.
According to the Cornwall Wildlife Trust, the whales spotted by McEnery-Cartwright form part of the ‘West Coast Community, a pod of eight individuals made up of four males and four females who normally reside in the Hebrides in Scotland.
This particular pod can be distinguished from other groups of killer whales by their unusual sloping eye patch and larger size. Cornwall Wildlife Trust Marine Conservation Officer, Abby Crosby, has reported this as the first official orca record in their databases with associated photos in over a decade.
Despite being regularly monitored, some pod members have not been seen in recent years, and no calves have been observed since monitoring began in the 1990s. The Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust believe the pod faces the risk of extinction as a direct result of human activities. Crosby told The Guardian; “This pod, and the issues it faces with infertility and future extinction, should be a huge wake-up call to the public that we must protect these creatures better in our waters.”
WHAT TO DO IF ORCAS APPROACH YOU WHEN SAILING
For sailors wanting to keep themselves and the orcas safe on chance meetings, the Atlantic Orca Working Group has issued the following tips. These are especially important if the orcas begin to interact with the yacht;
- Stop the boat and leave the wheel loose – if sea conditions are favourable
- Take your hands off the wheel and stay away from any part of the boat that may fall or turn sharply
- Don’t yell at the animals, touch them with anything, throw things at them, and try to stay out of sight
- If you have a camera phone or other device, record the animals, especially their dorsal fins, to help authorities identify them later – and it will certainly boost your instagram following!
- After a while, if you do not feel pressure or nudges on the rudder, check that it turns and works
- Make notes of the interaction, record the date/time and your position
- Contact the coastguard to inform them of the activity