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Killer whales spotted off Cornwall coast for first time in over 50 years

Killer whales have been spotted off the Cornish coast in the most southerly sighting in more than 50 years.

Experts believe the sighting of the pair, named John Coe and Aquarius, is the instance of the UK’s only resident population of killer whales travelling this far south.

They were spotted at the beginning of May by members of Cornwall Wildlife Trust off the west coast, near the Minack Theatre.

Nine days later on the May 14 the pair were seen back in the Hebrides by Anthony Rigell from Waternish Point, Isle of Skye around 550 miles north of Porthgwarra.

Then on May 17 they were spotted off Lochboisdale, South Uist from the Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust’s research vessel Silurian.

The Sea Watch Foundation, Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust and the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group have confirmed that this is the first sighting of this famous pair of killer whales off England.

It is also the most southerly point they have ever been recorded in the five decades that movements of this small and unique group of killer whales have been tracked by the charities.

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

Abby Crosby, a 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 North Sea is the more likely swimming ground of UK orca

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.

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.

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.”

Dr Lauren Hartny-Mills, Science and Conservation Manager at the Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust, monitors sightings of the group off the west coast of Scotland: “We are all absolutely thrilled that John Coe and Aquarius have been seen again.

“Will’s recent sighting off Cornwall really highlights how crucial public sightings data are in helping us monitor the movements of individual animal’s year after year.

“It shows how much we still have to learn about their movement and it is fascinating to be able to add another important piece to the puzzle.

“Most of what we know about animals like John Coe and Aquarius is thanks to dedicated members of the public who send in their sightings and photographs of whales and dolphins to citizen science sightings schemes run by regional charities like Whale Track by Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust.”