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Killer Whales on Yell Sound 23rd March

Posted by Brydon Thomason on Monday 29th March 2010 | Sea Mammals in Shetland

Our third encounter of the year! Spotted on Yell Sound off the ferry, Brydon had his first encounter of the year (the second for Shetland Nature in just a couple of weeks and its not even April yet!).Managing to get some ‘record shots’ of at least six of the pod, Brydon recognised three of the animals as previously recorded and regular visitors to Shetland. In conjunction with Andy Foote and Volker Deeke (North Atlantic Whale ID Project/ Scottish Killer Whale Identification Research Team), we were able to piece together a fairly well informed but perhaps speculative picture of how many animals were in the pod (based on the pod sizes that the identified animals are typically seen with).

There was obviously a minimum of six whales seen at any one time but we, (along with other lucky observers) were almost certain that there may well have been as many as double that, given how well spread out the pod seemed to be.

Individuals 012 and 015 were both positively identified, these are regular visitors to Shetland and have been sighted almost annually in recent years; 012, who normally travels in a pod of 5-7, (013 was also thought to have been matched who also travels with this same group). She was not reported off Shetland last year but was however identified off Orkney in May. Other confirmed sightings of this individual have come from St Kilda in 2006 and off Iceland in 1999.  015, a female that was part of a large pod Andy, Volker and Brydon encountered last July off Unst. In recent years this individual has been photographed with her pod off Fair Isle, Wick and Orkney. It is very likely that this pod (of up to 10 animals), or at least some of this pod were among this sighting.

A bull in the pod showed a very similar dorsal mark to that of a very familiar and regularly encountered bull in Shetland, known as Bigga. This potentially new bull shows an almost identical dorsal mark to one from the Iceland ID catalogue, who was photographed there in 1986! With out better images of each individual however, we can not be certain.

If the positively Id’d whales were travelling with their regular respective pods, there could well have been up to 12-15 animals travelling together. It is with thanks to the outstanding and on going work carried out in the Shetland waters and beyond by Andy, Volker and their colleagues that we are slowly building a clearer picture of these awe inspiring sea-mammals.

We are very much looking forward to another season of working closely with the research team and feel privileged to have Andy and Volker working with us as tour leaders and guides.

To find out more about the ID and research visit or