A “MYSTERY group” of Scottish killer whales have been spotted off the coast of Norway.
The find solves a three-year conundrum after the Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust (HWDT) made the last known sighting of the pod – never before seen in Scottish waters – off Vatersay on the west coast of Scotland in June 2018.
The breakthrough came on July 10 after citizen scientist Asmund Aasheim photographed a group of six whales in Boroyfjorden in southern Norway and sent their photos to the Norwegian Orca Survey. Dr Eve Jourdain discovered that killer whales were unfamiliar with Norwegian records.
Dr Jourdain looked further after finding that the coloring on the back of the whales, known as the saddle patch, was different from that of killer whales normally seen in Norway. She found a match in the Scottish Killer Whale Catalog – a document containing images of all known live killer whales seen in Scottish waters.
She said: “From the moment I looked at the pictures of Asmud, I knew these orcas were ‘different’ from our Norwegian killer whales.
“Following our routine protocols, I still tried to identify them from our Norwegian catalog, but as expected, I couldn’t find any matches.
“When it occurred to me that I had to browse the Scottish Catalog, I had a hunch that I would find them there. And bingo! It was amazing to find this first photographic match between Norway and the Scotland !”
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HWDT researchers and the authors of the Scottish Killer Whale Catalog confirmed that three of the killer whales encountered in Norway were specific individuals known to the Scottish Catalog.
The only previous confirmed sighting of this group of killer whales was made by the Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust in 2018, when the animals were spotted just 300 meters from the association’s research yacht, Silurian.
HWDT chief science officer Becky Dudley was on board and captured the photographs that – three years later – made the Norwegian match possible.
“Encountering this group of killer whales in 2018 was one of the most incredible experiences I have had on the west coast of Scotland,” she said.
“It was made even more exciting when – despite numerous investigations and collaborations with other organizations – the identity of this capsule remained a mystery.
“I am delighted that the group was associated with the group seen in Norway more than three years later. It shows how much there is to learn about the marine life in our oceans.”
Dr Lauren Hartny-Mills, head of science and conservation at the Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust said: “This latest observation really highlights how crucial citizen science is in helping us monitor animal movements. highly mobile and large-scale such as whales and dolphins, and demonstrates the need for long-term monitoring.
“We still have so much to learn about whale movements, and it’s fascinating to be able to add another important piece to the puzzle. By working with citizen scientists and collaborating with colleagues from Scotland, Norway and beyond, we really hope to learn more about this group.