17 October 2008
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
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.
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,”
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.
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.