Posted on Thursday, 18 April 2013
Since our extremely exciting time spent with a pod of four orcas in May 2012 we have been impatiently waiting for April 2013. This time of the year False Bay is normally full with baitfish which stimulates a very diverse eco system. First the African penguins and the cape gannets will start to feed on the baitfish and pretty soon the common dolphins will begin arriving to also patrol False Bay for the energy rich sardines.
Since 2009 we have observed Orcas in False Bay on very rare occasions. These orcas seem to be dolphin specialists and as such we have observed them hunting dolphins on most of the occasions we have been fortunate enough to find them. The time period seems to be around April and May each year so we have spent the past ten months patiently waiting for hopefully another chance… Even since early April we have been on the lookout for the black and white hunters, making doubly sure to carefully check the area around large schools of dolphin, and also to carefully watch the behaviour of the dolphins. We have found that the dolphins behave in a particular way if the orcas are around, they can definitely come across as being nervous and the whole school will also constantly put in big burst of speed. Of late the dolphin numbers were growing and finally on Monday last week we had a school of 2500 dolphins. A patch of bad weather arrived in False Bay and it was not until Thursday that we were back on the water.
As often happens after bad weather the great white shark activity at Seal Island was on the quiet side on this morning. After a couple of brief sightings the shark trip came to an end and it was time to head back to Simonstown. Not long after White Pointer was on her way we got a call over the radio to saw that Orcas had been spotted close to Roman Rock lighthouse… The orcas were with the large school of dolphins!
As with what normally happens in these situations, mass panic very quickly took over the boat and crew. As we are at sea all the time we are much more aware than our guests of how rare and special orca sightings are so we were all just beside ourselves. We raced over to the area as fast as we could.
The orcas were easily keeping speed with the dolphins and it was very evident that they were on the hunt. It seemed as if there were orcas everywhere, but on closer inspection we were confident there were between 9 and 12 orcas in this pod. It was difficult to count as they would constantly porpoise above and below. We had to be very quick with our counting!
The dolphins were also reacting in an extreme manner whilst under threat. Their speed picked up to a massive 15 knots, with the orcas easily keeping pace. After a half an hour chase a successful breach strike on a dolphin ended in success, and the hunt was over for the time being. The orcas then spent a short time food sharing amongst the pod and over this time the dolphins fled the area and pretty soon were nowhere to be seen. Often this time period after hunting is a great time to spend with the orcas; they are usually pretty relaxed and it’s a great opportunity to have a close encounter with them. Whilst making sure to respect their space we took the boat on the flanks of the pod and sometimes just ahead of them too. For the next three hours we had amazing interactions as the orcas sometimes chose to come close to the boat.
There were two adult males, a number of adult females and at least three juveniles. The younger male in particular was comfortable with the boat. He would often burst up alongside not even a meter away from us. Even though I was expecting him I still could not help the involuntary scream of excitement each time this huge predator would rise alongside us, each time with a large exhale that would give me even more of a fright! Some of the adult females did the same thing and at one time we had three orcas riding along side. One was even completely inverted on her back and was swimming just under the boat belly up! It was a phenomenal experience.