Famous Killer Whales back in Hebridean Seas

Famous killer whales ‘John Coe’ and ‘Aquarius’ back in Hebridean seas after being spotted off the English coast for the first time!

News release, 20 May 2021

Much loved whales John Coe and Aquarius from the West Coast Community of killer whales were spotted on Wednesday 5th May near Porthgwarra, southwestern England.  Nine days later on the 14th May, the pair were seen back in the Hebrides by Anthony Rigell from Waternish Point, Isle of Skye around 550 miles north of Porthgwarra, and on the 17th May they were spotted off Lochboisdale, South Uist from the Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust’s research vessel, Silurian.

The Sea Watch Foundation, Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust and the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group have confirmed that this is the first sighting of this famous pair of killer whales off England and the most southerly point they have ever been recorded in the five decades that movements of this small and unique group of killer whales have been tracked by the charities.

These animals truly are a West Coast Community, with sightings recorded largely along the west coasts of Scotland and Wales and all around Ireland. Most sightings have been recorded in the Hebrides off the Scottish west coast, although John Coe has also occasionally been seen even off the north-east coast of Scotland.

The previous confirmed sighting of the pair was reported off Skye in the Inner Hebrides in October 2020, whilst in Ireland, John Coe was last seen off the coast of Co. Donegal in August 2020. The lockdown during the winter months has meant that fewer people than normal were out at sea and around our coasts and as a result the charities have received a smaller number of sightings from the public than normal in the last 18 months.

Confirmed sightings of John Coe reported to the Sea Watch Foundation, Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust, and Irish Whale and Dolphin Group, 1980-2021.

During the 1980s, John Coe was spotted within groups that numbered up to twenty individuals. That has since dwindled. In the 1990s, the largest group in which John Coe was seen was fourteen, and in the subsequent decades this declined further, going from ten down to eight in recent years following the death of two of the individuals. Since 2016, these two individual males John Coe and Aquarius have not been seen with any other killer whales, and no calves have been recorded in recent years. Killer whales continue to be threatened in particular from pollutants. Tragically, this unique group of killer whales may well die out in our lifetime.

With marine mammals at risk from human activities including climate change, entanglement, pollution, underwater noise and habitat degradation, ongoing and long-term research is crucial to improve understanding of the impacts on cetaceans, and how to protect them.

Anyone can get involved to help track the movements of individuals like John Coe and Aquarius and contribute to marine conservation efforts by sending in sightings and photographs of whales, dolphins, porpoises and basking sharks. For the west coast of Scotland report to the Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust (https://whaletrack.hwdt.org), for Ireland to the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group (https://records.iwdg.ie/sighting.php) and to Sea Watch Foundation (https://www.seawatchfoundation.org.uk/sightingsform/) for all areas around the British Isles.

Media contact: 

Sea Watch Foundation - Peter Evans, peter.evans@bangor.ac.uk. Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust - Lauren Hartny-Mills, science@hwdt.org. Irish Whale and Dolphin Group - Pádraig Whooley, padraig.whooley@iwdg.ie.

Last updated on 14 July 2021

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United Kingdom
Orcinus orca