Searching for Orca in Scotland

PING! Normally your phone going off before 8am on your day off would be a cause for irritation but there is only one group in my phone that makes that noise, and it can only mean one thing……


But where are they? Fraserburgh the message says, that’s an hour and a half away, so I throw myself out of bed and get ready in record time, messaging friends as I’m frantically packing my kit, then I’m off and on my way.

I’m out the door only to stop in my tracks. Oh no, haar!

Haar is a strange word and if you like to go Whale watching in Scotland it’s a word you dread! The thick sea fog is an absolute nightmare for those of us who like to spend time staring at the sea…

I have to say I was a bit gutted to find the visibility so bad at home but I knew that sometimes it can be very localised so I carried on in the hope that it would clear as I was heading east.

Last we heard they had been spotted heading west but were lost in the fog so I arranged to meet some friends who have found a spot to the east of Troup Head which is clear, and you can look towards Rosehearty. I’ve never been there but when I arrive it’s a stunning wee spot overlooking a lovely looking beach. I thought we would be here for a while, so I got the kettle on while I set up my scope and get ready to do some watching while chatting to my friends. There are others watching from out on the headland and we hear the shout go up, all our eyes are on the sea! But hang on a minute, they are heading back towards us. It soon becomes apparent that the Orca have been seen again from Fraserburgh so the haar must have cleared there but I’m not sure where’s best to go. Luckily one of the group lives there and offers to lead the convoy of crazy Orca watchers to the best spot!

When we arrive at the Lighthouse there are lots of people, but we didn’t see any sign of Orca until Gary finally gets a glimpse really far out through his scope. Try as I might I just can’t find them even with help from others and I’m feeling a bit disheartened.

The weather is closing in again and we can’t see very far so some of us decide to spread out further south along the coast to maximise the chance of seeing the Orca again. We move to Peterhead and find a good spot shown to us by another local Orca watcher. When we arrive it’s clear and we can see quite a distance out, so we settle in for some serious watching, pity the haar rolled back in 5 minutes later…….


After sitting looking at a bank of haar for a few hours we decide to head back north as it’s getting towards tea time and we are getting hungry. Typically as we are in the supermarket a message comes in to say there are dolphins heading towards Fraserburgh Lighthouse so we grab some snacks and get back on the road and are just in time to see the small pod of bottlenose dolphins pass by. It’s not an Orca but it’s still a very nice sighting and we are quite pleased with it.

It’s been a long day and we are tired, but we decide to have one last look from Rosehearty before we head back home and we were rewarded with lovely views of 2 Harbour Porpoise in the stunning evening light while we ate our food. It’s hard to leave and we decide to give it a little more time before we finally start to pack our stuff up at around 8pm.

PING! You wouldn’t believe it! The Orca have been spotted heading towards Fraserburgh again, right where we were earlier. Panic ensues, followed by lobbing chairs into the vans followed slightly more carefully by scopes and cameras and off we go back along the coast road. Will we make it? Will they be gone by the time we arrive? It’s the longest 12-minute drive ever and we are all running from the car park to the headland, all eyes are looking east when we see Allan calmly point out and say “There they are.” How can he be so calm about it? My heart is racing and not just from the run.

I’m standing eyes fixed on where they were last seen holding my breath and then I see it: The unmistakable huge black dorsal fin of a male Orca rising from the ocean, and he is heading straight for us. Closer they came, a whole pod of them, I was finding it hard to keep my camera still I was so excited. I must have seemed like a crazy person bounding down over the rocks to find a perch I could sit on and balance my camera. The next 15 minutes were just magical, sitting in the late evening sun watching a pod of Orca pass right in front of you, at one point within around 40m from shore. It was a very special night, and it was made all the sweeter because of the long hours when we couldn’t even see the sea!

One thing that always amazes me about watching Orca in Scotland is the fabulous community of what we affectionately call “Orcaholics”. These dedicated and passionate people not only spend their time and effort watching out but are so willing to share their knowledge and experience with others so that everyone has the chance to see these majestic animals wild and free, as they should be.



Photo Copywrite – Cath Bain