The Last Sunset in the West - Britain's Vanishing West Coast Orcas

An exclusive blog from the author Natalie Sanders details her determination to research and tell the story of the West Coast orca pod, and their famous last two members, the orca bulls of John Coe and Aquarius.


We are delighted that the author of The Last Sunset in the West, Natalie Sanders, has very graciously provided us with the following exclusive insights into her reasons for wanting to write this book which will be published on the 9th March 2023.

(*Buy your copy via the link to our bookstore at the end of this article and help support local independent bookstores in Ullapool and Skye.)

Over to you Natalie ...  

The journey to writing my book The Last Sunset in the West: Britain’s vanishing west coast orcas started almost ten years ago. Long fascinated by orcas in general, I found that the elusive West Coast Community of just ten individuals had me captivated. Culturally, ecologically, and genetically different to all other orca on the planet, this group has been fighting for survival until, now, just two elderly members of the community are left. Facing imminent extinction, they will take with them many unanswered questions.  

In my quest to learn more while we still have them, I took part in a 10-day marine mammal survey expedition on the Silurian, the research vessel belonging to the Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust. With just a few individuals and a lot of Hebridean sea to traverse, the chances of a sighting were remote. However, with luck on our side, we chanced upon Aquarius and Comet as we passed Neist Point Lighthouse on the Isle of Skye and, for an hour, marvelled at their sheer power and magnificence. Sadly though, the moment they disappeared into the Little Minch was the last time that Comet would be seen.  

There orca named John Coe and AquariusAquarius and John Coe on one of their recent sightings in front of Ardnamurchan Lighthouse. They are thought to be the last two survivors. ©

Orcas are the most incredible animals, formidable hunters who are fiercely loyal to each other. With family bonds that rival our own, they demonstrate love, compassion, empathy, and grief. Despite being the ocean's apex predator, they are far from immune to our planet’s changes and the various forms of pollution they must contend with. For eleven million years the species has thrived, but now it is in decline, and I am afraid that the West Coast Community is just one of many struggling to cope with the marine environment as it is today. 

When I was researching this population, I couldn’t believe that there had not been a book written about them, and felt that they deserved sone, dedicated to them. The Last Sunset in the West tells the story of John Coe, Nicola, Comet, Moon, Lulu, Floppy Fin, Puffin, Aquarius, Occasus and Moneypenny. In its first part it is an account of what we know about them and their plight, and in the second a celebration of the beauty of the Hebrides and its wildlife. I hope this book not only informs and inspires but also helps you connect with our iconic orca as individuals with lives of their own. Lives that matter and that we must try to protect.  


Natalie Sanders

Natalie Sanders holds a PhD in marine biology and has spent several years working as a marine consultant and collaborating with marine charities across the world. She lives in the south-west of England with her husband and two children.


Price: £22.50 £21.37

Publisher: Sandstone Press Limited

Type: Hardback