Monday, 25 Oct 2021

Killer whales seen swimming off Cornish coast for first time in over 10 years

Two killer whales spotted off the Cornish coast are the first to be seen in the region in more than a decade.

Experts believe this is the first sighting of the UK's only resident population of killer whales travelling this far south.

They were spotted by members of Cornwall Wildlife Trust off the west coast, near the Minack Theatre in Porthcurno, CornwallLive reports.

Will McEnery-Cartwright was enjoying refreshments at the theatre when he spotted what he thought were two whale fins in the water on Wednesday, May 5.

He said: "Well today something crazy happened. I was taking in the views and drinking a coffee at the Minack Theatre and I spotted a whale fin in the distance.

"Couldn’t believe my eyes when I realised it was an orca (killer whale). Wow.

"Showed a staff member called Dave who confirmed it was an orca. Looking at all my pictures again and doing some research online it looks like there might be more than one, possibly John Coe with the distinctive notch on the dorsal fin and a chunk out of the tail fluke."

The pair, named John Coe and Aquarius, were identified by the shape and notches of their dorsal fins and patches of colouration near their eyes and on their backs.

Abby Crosby, marine conservation officer at Cornwall Wildlife Trust, said: "Photographs validated the record and identified these rare and beautiful individuals as John Coe and Aquarius.

"This is the first official orca record in our databases with associated photos in over a decade, and further proof of the value of our coastal seas in supporting these magnificent creatures."

The two killer whales form part of the West Coast Community, a specialised pod of eight individuals that can be distinguished from other groups of orcas by their unusual sloping eye patch and larger size.

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Although they are regularly monitored, some have not been seen in recent years and there have been no calves observed since monitoring began in the 1990s.

According to the Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust, the pod faces the risk of extinction as a direct result of human activities.

This includes exposure to high levels of now-banned PCB chemicals which have caused poor health and infertility within the pod.

Ms Crosby added: "This pod, and the issues it faces with infertility and future extinction, should be a huge wake-up call to the public that we must protect these creatures better in our waters."

Orcas are the largest member of the dolphin family.

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