ORCA tours with CalMac and West Coast Tours
This year CalMac and West Coast Tours have teamed up with ORCA, a marine conservation charity, to offer exciting wildlife tours across the CalMac network.
CalMac has been supporting ORCA by allowing them to use the ferries as a platform to collect vital data on the populations and distribution of marine mammals, specifically whales, dolphins, and porpoises. The CalMac ferry routes are perfect for collecting data on as they travel in a straight line and repeat the same routes on a daily basis, making it easy for ORCA to do distance sampling surveys and compare the findings from day to day, month to month, and year to year. This data is then used to assess the conservation status of marine mammals and to highlight important and vulnerable habitats.
Since 2018 an ORCA Ocean Conservationist has been placed on CalMac Ferries to not only collect important survey information, but to engage with passengers on board and to showcase the amazing variety of marine mammal species that can be seen in the Hebrides.
CalMac are now offering two types of dedicated whale and dolphin watching trips on their vessels with the ORCA Ocean Conservationist, Ocean Conservationist Experiences and ORCA Mini-cruises.
Peter and Jess, ORCA Ocean Conservationists on CalMac Ferries.
Ocean Conservationist Experience
This is an extra activity that can be added onto the Three Isles Tour with West Coast Tours. The ORCA Ocean Conservationist will join you on your crossing to Craignure and teach you how to spot marine mammal species and give a short presentation about the wildlife that can be seen in this area and the work of ORCA. There is also a good chance of spotting harbour porpoises on this crossing and lots of seals, birds, jellyfish, and sometimes even otters.
ORCA Ocean Conservationist Peter on board the MV Isle of Mull with passengers on the Three Isles Tour.
These longer full day tours give you the chance to join the Orca Ocean Conservationist for a whole day on a return crossing to the Outer Isles from several locations. You will watch a short presentation and then will head out on deck to spot wildlife. You can also join in with a survey and record the species you see, helping to contribute to important data collection that will help us to learn more and protect these species. On these longer day trips, you have a good chance of seeing minke whales, several dolphin species, basking sharks, and a large variety of seabirds, as well as experiencing the spectacular scenery of the Outer Isles.
Young ocean conservationists wildlife watching on a ORCA Mini-cruise with Ocean Conservationist Jess, from the Isle of Skye to North Uist.
Species that can be seen in the Hebrides
The Northern Minke whale - a small baleen whale that is frequently seen in Hebridean waters.
Risso's dolphins - large grey dolphins often with white scars that are seen around the Isle of Lewis.
The harbour porpoise - The UK's smallest cetacean species reaching just 1.5 metres long.
Common dolphins - frequently seen from CalMac Ferry routes and often approach the ships.
Orcas, also known as killer whales - these are occasional visitors to the Hebrides and have been seen from the CalMac Network.
The ORCA mini cruises are also a great opportunity to see a variety of seabirds including gannets, puffins, razorbills, guillemots, fulmars, kittiwakes, skuas, storm petrels, and eagles. You can find out the dates and locations that the Mini-cruises and Ocean Conservationist Experiences will be running by contacting West Coast Tours .
Find out more about the work of ORCA .
Find out more about CalMac's Marine Awareness Programme