Fraserburgh Orca - May 2022

On 31st October 2020, I travelled to Shetland in the hope of seeing Orca. The day subsequent to arriving, I managed to spot the 27s pod while parked-up at the Mousa pier . I was fortunate to see the 27s pod six more times during the trip and also had a close encounter with two Humpbacks: Shetland trip report. Since then I admit to having turned into a bit of an Orcaholic. I returned to Shetland twice in 2021 for further sightings.

On 7th May 2022, my friend Steve Truluck travelled across to Fraserburgh in the hope of spotting Orca off the Fraserburgh coast as a pod had been seen from there exactly one year previous. On arriving and looking out, lo and behold, Steve spotted Orca!

I arrived in Fraserburgh within twenty minutes of Steve putting out an alert as I had anticipated the chance of a sighting and was already nearby at RSPB Loch of Strathbeg.

The first Orca sighting in Fraserburgh was seen by around 12-15 fairly local cetacean watchers who also received the alert .

Ready to photograph Orca at Kinnaird Head, Fraserburgh:


It was great to see five Orca from an as yet unidentified pod; three adults and two calves.

Orca photographed from Kinnaird Head:


Orca photographed from Kinnaird Head:


I suspected this would be a one-off sighting.

However two days later, on 9th May 2022, the Orca were spotted from Pitullie. For this sighting, I travelled from home along the coast hoping I would catch them by the time they reached Kinnaird Head. Success !

This was the same pod we had seen two days previous, the 169s pod. A pod of three adults and two calves. One of the calves was born in 2021 and the other in 2022, a real baby Orca!

Two baby calves going nose-to-nose:


I loved this sighting as I got to see my very first spy-hop.

Spy-hopping Orca:


Baby Orca cruising along with mum:


After the second sighting I again travelled home but the following day decided to take my campervan along to Fraserburgh just in case they were still around at the weekend.

That evening I saw the Orca again at considerable distance from Cairnbulg and also from St Combs.

Looking out for Orca with my dog Cuillin:


I again saw the Orca briefly for a fourth time on 11th May 2022 but did not see them again until the 14th May 2022.

On the 14th, after watching for Orca for most of the day without success, I decided to abandon my Orca watch and head to Aberdeen to photograph an urban fox family. While in Aberdeen, an alert went out from Fraserburgh. By the time I travelled back up the coast, I had missed the best encounter yet from Fraserburgh just managing to catch the tail-end of the sighting from Cairnbulg .

From Cairnbulg, it was awesome to see the 169s pod had now been joined by two bull Orca, Ulfur and Trinkie, two males which regularly travel between Scotland and Iceland.

Bull Orca off Cairnbulg:


On Sunday, someone put out an alert that Orca had been seen from Findochty, so a number of us made our way west an hour along the coast. This unfortunately turned out to be a false alert - someone confusing a bottlenose dolphin with Orca . This was somewhat infuriating as we had travelled about 50 miles along the coast in the wrong direction, wasting fuel when the Orca were still back in Fraserburgh.

Instead of returning to Fraserburgh, I returned home but when another alert went out advising that the Orca were now travelling west and had been seen in Fraserburgh, Pitullie, Rosehearty and from New Aberdour, I decided to try to spot them from Troup Head. On arriving at Troup Head, I jogged out to the head and managed to spot Ulfur and Trinkie. The 169s passed shortly after.

Ulfur and Trinkie from Troup Head:


Looking down from Troup Head:


After a week of Orca watching it was nice to spend a few days at home. As the Orca had travelled west and had last been seen from Macduff at sunset we thought they were heading back west then north potentially up to Caithness and beyond.

However two days later Orca were again seen off the Fraserburgh coast. These sightings were not posted-up until the Wednesday.

On Thursday 19th May, I decided to take another chance hoping to spot the Orca.

Looking for Orca:

At lunchtime I spotted a huge gathering of gulls above the water and below them, Orca! This time they were not several kilometres out, 750 metres out, or even 400 metres out, they were 10 to 15 metres from shore and there was no-one else there watching!

I quickly put out an alert and started taking pics. What a sighting!!!























I was seriously chuffed with this sighting thinking it would be impossible to beat given they could not really have been closer to shore and the light had been so good.

The Orca were not spotted on Friday but on Saturday, Steve was back along the coast and spotted the Orca just below the horizon. We watched for much of the morning and in the early afternoon but they were not coming in any closer. Considerable splashing could however be seen from shore.

Watching the distant Orca on Satuday via scopes and binoculars:


An opportunity then presented itself to go out on a boat to view the Orca from an appropriate distance so as not to harass them or disturb them or change their behaviour in any way. In the company of Steve, a cetacean advocate and north-west coast whale trip skipper who also skippers for whale research in Norway and recently in the Falkland Islands, we set off six miles north from Fraserburgh Harbour directed from land by cetacean enthusiast Jane Ferguson.

If you ever head out to watch cetaceans from a boat please ensure that you go with someone who knows how to respect the cetaceans and who follows Nature Scot's Scottish Marine Wildlife Watching Code and Guide to Best Practice for Watching Marine Wildlife. It's Rude to Intrude!

Boat trip:


For what we then saw there are no words. Despite the Orca being further away than my shore sighting two days previous, as we did not want to disturb them by getting too close, this sighting was simply incredible. Even from over a mile away as we approached towards the Orca we could see repeated breaching, rolling, tail-slapping and spy-hopping as per the splashes we had seen from shore. The 169s, Ulfur and Trinkie were having a whale of a time (even though Orca are actually dolphins!).

Photos from our boat trip follow (all pics taken with a large telephoto lens and cropped) >>>>>



































































This was the most amazing wildlife experience of my life and I honestly don't think it can be bettered.

As I type, the Orca are still off the Fraserburgh coast having been seen for several hours both yesterday and today.


WITH THANKS

I would like to thank Steve Truluck for the initial sighting, his knowledge, experience and company.
Also my awesome boat companions - Liam, Anita, Gary, Paul, Debbie and Angela.
Our skipper, Jordan and to Jane for directing us to the Orca from land.
All the other cetacean enthusiasts and complete newbies enjoying the Orca.

And finally, to the real cetacean enthusiast who actually found the Orca, Riley .