ORCA surveyors aboard DFDS KING Seaways had a rare treat with a sighting of a killer whale during this weekend's survey
The solitary animal was sighted by the four-strong team of volunteers swimming close to the ship, with the animal breaking the surface numerous time. The team were even able to positively identify the animal as a female from the distinctive shape of the dorsal fin.
Killer whales are regular visitors to the east coast of Scotland, with a population travelling down each summer from Iceland. This sighting, however, marks the first time the species has ever been recorded by ORCA on this survey route.
The data collected will be used to further our understanding of the species and the threats they face, with orca populations around Europe at continuing risk from a range of factors. In particular, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) pose a severe danger to killer whales because of their position as apex predators and longer life spans, both of which result in high concentrations bioaccumulating in the animals.
PCBs are thought to be a key factor in the decline of the UK's last resident pod of orcas, with a female member of the pod known as Lulu found to have the highest recorded concentration of PCBs ever recorded.
ORCA continue to work with agencies and other conservation organisations to better understand this decline and find solutions to this and other threats facing cetaceans in waters around the UK, Europe and beyond. To learn more download our The State of European Cetaceans 2017 report and read about these threats in more detail.