Posted on Monday, 6 May 2013
Venturing off Cape Point into the open ocean often provides great opportunities for seeing a variety of cetacean species (whales and dolphins). So, especially on calm days where we have great visibility, in terms of seeing far ahead of us, we are on high alert for interesting sightings.
On 6 May we had great conditions and had already set up our chum slick and were now patiently waiting for either a mako or blue shark to visit us. Chris was keeping watch on the roof of White Pointer when he spotted very small splashing about 1 mile ahead of us. He was confident that it was not just wind or a current line so we excitedly packed up our bait and raced over.
As we approached we could see a large school of dolphin spread over at least a mile wide area and the school appeared to be about 200 strong. As we got closer we identified them as the offshore species of common Bottlenose Dolphin. These oceanic dolphin differs from the more commonly seen inshore species by being larger and stockier. Actually, this is only the second time I have seen them so it was really exciting. They are very powerful animals and it was beautiful to watch them cut so strongly through the water… Very, very impressive as they came towards us!
They immediately approached the boat and began bow riding. While we were taking in the scene Chris shouted to us to look out for other species of whales or dolphins as this species often swims with pilot whales or humpback whales. He was right! Pretty soon we were able to single out a small group of about 20 or so False Killer whales. They were fairly similar so if we had not been looking for something different we may well have missed them. By the way a False Killer whale is actually an oceanic dolphin rather than a whale as the name suggests.
The sea conditions were great and water visibility good so we quickly got into our wetsuits to attempt an underwater interaction with them. The least invasive way to approach them was to wait with the boat up ahead and then very slowly enter the water and hope that we would end up in their path.
Not so easy! The False Killer whales must have been very aware of us as no matter how right we thought we got it they would seem to know that there was something unfamiliar in the water and would then very quickly dive deep enough that we could not see them. But, we were very fortunate on a number of occasions to get very short glimpses as the False Killer Whales dived beneath us.
The bottlenose dolphins on the other hand were a dream! They were very interactive and curious of us. They would frequently swim right up to us for a closer look and turn on their side almost as if asking us to come and play with them. Both species were also extremely vocal and underwater it was like a orchestra of clicking dolphin sounds… Magical!
The False Killer Whales were very different in body movement underwater and different to how agile the Bottlenose dolphins appeared. They reminded me of submarines just bulldozing forwards in the water. Even though the bottlenose dolphins were very comfortable with us we decided to respect that the False Killer whales may not have felt the same. So, after we had all had a look we enjoyed the topside viewing.
The bottlenose dolphins were performing the most impressively high aerial summersaults, normally in pairs. And a number of times we also saw a few False Killer Whales breaching completely clear of the water and twisting on their sides. Another very interesting observation was of a number of feeding events by the False Killer Whales. It was not evident what they were eating but they would periodically come to the surface together is what seemed like a food sharing exercise.
At one point we saw a large group of white chin petrels gathered just after this and we were able to find the left over carcass of a very big yellowfin tuna. Only the gills and stomach remained but we estimated the fish to be in the region of 90kg’s. Wow, I wish we could have seen them catching the tuna underwater … seeing that they can dive up to 500 meters I think this would have been a long shot. There was also a lot of small squid in the area and we presume this is what the bottlenose dolphins would have been feeding on and also the False Killer whales may also have been feeding on this too.
It was a fantastically memorable encounter and we can’t wait for the next surprise cetacean sighting out there!