UK's most famous Orca "John Coe" sighted off Scotland and Ireland

by Rich Mallon-Day - 7/9/2016 9:08:00 AM

One of the most valuable research tools for studying Whales and Dolphins is the Technique of Photo Identification.

Simply put, we photograph a Whale or Dolphin and look for naturally acquired markings. With Dolphins we look for nicks on the dorsal fin, for Humpback Whales we look at the pattern on the underside of the tail flukes.

Last week we had a bitter-sweet example of how this technique is used.

On Monday June 20th, 2016 a group of snorkelers off the Isle of Coll, in the Inner Hebrides, were observing seals. The trip operator saw a large dorsal fin about one mile away and called the group back to the boat. When they caught up with the animal they found it to be a large male Orca or Killer Whale. But not just any Orca, this one was first photographed in 1983 and his name is "John Coe".

At the time of his first spotting he was believed to be a full grown adult male. He is a member of an Orca pod that travels between Northern Scotland and the Western Coast of Ireland. "John Coe" is now believed to be around 50 years old.

What is really exciting is that one week later on Monday June 27th, 2016 "John Coe" was photographed again, this time off the south-western coast of Ireland, off Slea Head in County Kerry, a distance of over 500 Kilometers. "John Coe" was last seen in Irish waters back in 2013 off of County Mayo.

Unfortunately, in both of these sightings he was seen swimming alone. In past years he was usually photographed with a female Orca named "Nicola" and she has not been seen in several years. Another female from his pod, "Lulu", was found dead on January 3rd, 2016, on the island of Tiree in Inner Hebrides, it is believed she died from being entangled in fishing gear.

"John Coe's" Orca pod, the Scottish West Coast Community Group, is not expected to survive, it has been several years since a calf has been born into the pod and it is believed that the pod now numbers as few as 8 individuals.