10th Sighting of John Coe This Year!
The Hebrides is home to a unique pod of killer whales; The West Coast Community. With a total of 8 individuals, this pod is unlike any other Atlantic population. Arguably, the most distinctive individual of this pod is John Coe; a male killer whale with a large notch at the base of his two-meter-high dorsal fin, which makes him easily identifiable.
John Coe was seen this weekend (17th September) by local fishermen, Gordon Mackinnon and Ritchie Simpson, off Canna and the West of Skye. This is the 10th confirmed sighting HWDT has received of John Coe this year. Interestingly, all other confirmed reports of John Coe in 2016 have been of him alone, whereas Gordon’s photos clearly show him with another male.
The West Coast Community consists of four males and four females, and they are not known to interact with any other orca populations in the north-east Atlantic. Each animal has individual markings and can be identified by these, using the technique: Photo-Identification. This is a non-invasive research technique, and provides a way in which we can harness the power of citizen science, as anyone with a camera can help contribute to the research.
Since the beginning of the year, the Trust has received 33 reports of killer whales through the Community Sightings Network, as well as from local boat operators and other cetacean research groups. Of these 33 reports, 16 of these encounters had photos and 10 of these were identified as John Coe.
The West Coast Community feed on marine mammals such as porpoises, whereas other local populations predominantly feed on fish. They also look different, with downward sloping eye patches, compared to horizontal eye patches, and the animals are also bigger than the other Atlantic killer whales. These animals are wide ranging and have been seen of the West Coast of Ireland, as well as down in Wales and on the East Coast of Scotland. John Coe was first photographed and identified by HWDT in 1992 and since studies began, none of these individuals have ever successfully reproduced.
The majority of our understanding of this unique pod, is a result of the Community Sightings Network, which provides a channel for the public to report their sightings to HWDT and share their photographs, enabling us to identify individuals and track their movements. If you are lucky enough to encounter a killer whale in Scottish Waters, please let us know, by reporting your sighting here.
HWDT would like to thank everyone who has submitted their killer whale sightings this year, including the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group, Sea Trust, Hebrides Whale Cruises and Sea Life Surveys.