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Scientists see hundreds of orcas

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Gavin Morgan

17 October 2008

The scientists call this killer whale soup - 10 orcas are visible with another 10 estimated to be below the surface - all photos: Courtesy of Aberdeen UniversitySCIENTISTS researching the abundance of killer whales in Shetland’s waters have spotted the largest group so far with up to 200 sighted, fifty miles east of the isles.

Dr Andy Foote from the University of Aberdeen and his colleague Harriet Bolt have now returned from a week aboard the Shetland pelagic trawler Adenia.

Mr Foote was in Shetland during the summer to record orcas that are regularly seen in coastal waters in order to identify individual animals as part of an ongoing study that now has 25 mammals listed.

The whales are identified through photographs of their dorsal fin and saddle patch.

Killer whales feed on mackerel in offshore waters and the researchers hoped that they might be able to recognise some of those recorded in the summer, but this was not the case.

This adult male has been identified and named as no. 087.“None of these individuals match with the individuals seen in inshore Shetland waters during the summer and it seems likely that these are two distinct populations,” Dr Foote said.

He said that their recent trip proves that there are “a lot of whales out there”, but they could not tell if populations are growing as their research project had been going for only two years.

“Working from the fishing boat is the only way to reach these whales in pelagic waters. They appear from nowhere when the net is being hauled in and disappear into the ether again once the fishermen have finished.

“We would just never be able to find them in such a large expanse any other way. The cost of such research would also be prohibitive due to rising fuel costs,” he said.

This is the third season Dr Foote has been off with the Adenia and despite eventually seeing numbers of between 100 and 200, sightings were not so successful at first.

“The season started off slowly with no killer whales showing up during the first catch, a group of two on the second trip, 30 to 40 on the third trip and a group of 100 to 200 on the final 24 hr trip out from Lerwick and back.

The Adenia crew with their two guests: George William Anderson, Harriet Bolt, Michael Anderson, Andy Foote, Stuart Anderson, Ivor 'Fred' Polson, Josie Anderson, Leonard Reid, Raymond Fraser, Bobby Polson.“The calm, bright conditions of this last trip were in stark contrast to earlier in the week when the instruments on the bridge registered gusts of up to 115 knots,” he said.

Mr Foote last night praised the hospitality of the Adenia’s crew who he said “give us all our board and food for free”. Both parties plan to continue their successful collaboration in the future.

The killer whale research is funded by SNH, the Scottish Executive, the Carnegie Trust and sponsored by NorthLink Ferries.
 


Most recent update - Monday, 20 October 2008 21:22
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