Posted on Tuesday, 21 May 2013
In the last 3 weeks there were few signs of the large schools of common dolphin that would normally be in False Bay this time of the year. Of course this made our mission looking for Orca’s that much more difficult.
From about 17 May we started getting a couple of smaller dolphin school sightings and then on the 19th we found a large school of about 1000. This gave us a little more hope that we may have another chance of finding the big black and white dolphin hunters.
On 21 May the weather forecast was for perfect conditions so we planned a big boat drive to cover as much of the Bay as possible. We picked up our first school of about 400 common dolphins in the Maccassar area and spent a fair amount of time with them. They displayed some agitated behaviour, not really interacting with the boat and at one point they split into 2 smaller pods and moved off with great speed.
We had just purchased a hydrophone that we were hoping would assist us in finding dolphins so we thought we would try it out and listen to the dolphins at close quarters. Very strangely they were not making any noises at all, we almost thought the hydrophone was not working but in fact the dolphins were just not talking. We would find out later why this was the case…
We spent a good amount of time with them and then carried on with our course, heading towards Strand, Gordon’s Bay and then along the cliffs towards Rooi Els. Here we came across areas of high baitfish activity. Seals, Cormorants and Brydes whales were working these baitballs and again we commented that it was strange that there were no dolphins in this productive area. In fact just before leaving this area and heading to Seal Island a small agitated splinter group of 6 common dolphins came racing past us at high speed, which also caused us to comment.
Sometimes you can have days when everything goes right, like this day! We had not been at Seal Island for longer than a few minutes when a large 4 meter female shark successfully hunted a seal. She took a good 3 minutes to consume the carcass so we got great views of her as she fed.
As we departed for Simonstown we all reflected on what a day it had been: dolphins, seals, brydes whales, great white sharks, baitballs… and it was about to get better!
We were almost 2/3 of the way home when I spotted another school of dolphin almost on the edge of our sight. We approached them and moved with them all the way to Partridge Point, just enjoying being with them in the late afternoon.
Chris had just said that it was time to go home when on the roof I spotted some larger splashes about 2 miles away. Having spent a lot of time on the sea our eyes can fairly easily pick up on different splashes and what they may mean. These were too big for dolphins but before I could get ahead of myself and call out “Orca” (!) I shouted for Chris to check them out.
We couldn’t be sure so we approached closer and I felt my disappointment as it appeared to just be another small pod of dolphins. But then ….. a very large dorsal fin appeared above the sea surface followed by a huge 4 ton male Orca, and then the rest of the pod could be seen as they calved out of the water towards us.
The first orca breached into the school of unaware dolphins, followed by a complete onslaught of orcas breaching and attacking everywhere.
It was the same pod of between 9 to 12 Orcas that we saw on 18 April and they were most defiantly on the dolphin hunt. I can only describe the pod as Trojan horses galloping off to war, racing full throttle towards us, such was the scene as they moved with great purpose towards the dolphins. You cannot image the shouts of excitement when we realised what we had come across! It all happened so fast, we were moving with them and then they suddenly turned up a gear and went into full hunting mode as soon as they caught up with the dolphin school.
The first orca breached into the school of unaware dolphins, followed by a complete onslaught of orcas breaching and attacking everywhere. Everyone on the boat was screaming to look somewhere different and in the manic panic on board we decided to stick with the 3 orcas we know best from this pod, an Adult female (Nandi), a sub adult male (Shaka) and a juvenile (Dingaan). The adult female is most likely the mother of these 2 and they probably hunt together regularly. All around us the orcas were splitting off into different hunting groups, unfortunately we could not keep track of them of but we did pick a very interesting hunting situation.
Nandi led the chase with Dingaan at her side. Shaka was some way back but very quickly turned on his speed and in no time he was joining the hunt. They had fairly easily isolated one dolphin and were now just keeping up with it and almost herding it. We were wondering why they were not finishing things off when a very interesting observation took place.
There was a slight hesitation from both Nandi and Shaka where they seemed to hold back just slightly and then little Dingaan burst from the blocks with a sudden injection of high speed and made the final kill.
It was very obvious that Nandi and Shaka had been teaching Dingaan and then gave him the go ahead to finish things off. It was also clear to see how keen this little orca was to get involved and was very excited to have been given this opportunity.
It was a highly impressive display of intelligence and communication between 3 animals and this to me, and all on board, was the most unbelievable thing to observe and understand. It was even more impressive than a handful of orcas breaching clear of the water all around us which we had seen only 15 minutes before, if that is possible! Of course it was tough for the dolphin but we do always at all times have great respect for the prey in these situations.
After the final kill was made, the 3 orcas all fed together.
Once they were done they moved off towards Cape Point and all around us other orcas started joining as the pod attempting to come back together.
We are learning that spending time with the orcas after hunting can be a special time. They are relaxed as they have just fed and sometimes they can be playful with the boat.
Shaka, the sub adult male, seems to be the most interactive. He will often ride right next to the boat, breathing out loudly each time he surfaces. I can’t help it, even though I am expecting him, I still get a fright each time this huge animal rises up alongside us. We stayed as long at the approaching twilight allowed us but sadly we had to leave them as they began to exit False Bay.
It was a truly special and magical encounter and one I will probably remember for the rest of my life.
We also had a group of like-minded friends on board who all knew how special this experience was, it was great to be able to share this with them. I can’t wait for the next encounter!