Posted on Saturday, 5 May 2012
This was our 4th encounter in False Bay with the group of 4 since 2009 (now known to us as A pod) that includes two very noticeable individuals, Mannemerak, the friendly female orca ( often bow rides or stern rides) with the bulbous hump on her dorsal surface anterior to her dorsal fin and then a large female( known now as Cleopatra, beautiful but lethal) that has a very falcate fin with a chink missing at the top. Cleopatra seems to be the lead hunter on 7 of the hunts we have seen this group undertake to date. 4 of the 7 have been successful.
Two of the other members have seemingly grown since our first sighting in April 2009. Mannemerak still has the strange parasite like object trailing off her dorsal fin seen at the last two sightings.
The last sighting unfolded as follows;
Sitting at Seal Island I noticed the school of dolphin we had observed 1nm East of York Shoal 45minutes earlier swimming in a SW direction 600m West of Sector 3 at Seal Island. After 2-3 minutes observation I noticed the school take off very abruptly. Having seen this behavior before when orcas or danger was present I looked for any signs of either. A single blow was seen 500 behind the fleeing school of dolphin but as no large dorsal fin was seen. I thought it to possibly be a Brydes whale. The dolphins continued to move away from the area at speed. I then decided to up anchor and follow. Upon getting to roughly York shoal I saw another blow and then saw a single orca. We stayed within 400m of this animal for 5 minutes. At the same time we noticed the school of dolphin noticeably breaking into three schools and tearing away from a single area. I then saw a massive splash and knew that another orca must be attacking them. We then immediately headed into that area. We saw two orcas pursuing two dolphin.I followed the lead orca from a distance of 300-400 m so as to not interfere with the hunt by forcing any direction changes or confusing engine noise in front of where the hunt was going. The lead orca caught up with the dolphin and overtook it and seemingly tried to head the dolphin back in the direction of where the following orca was coming from. The dolphins circled around the lead orca and once again headed in a NW direction. The speed was roughly 8-10 knots throughout the pursuit. The second orca, Cleopatra took over the chase and followed the dolphins for a further 1mile until abandoning the chase. It appeared that once they had missed a strike on the group but had separated a dolphin they pursued it and then tried to coral it for another orca member of the pod to catch in the confusion. It also appeared that the other two orcas in the pod of 4 were also following the hunt but were too far behind the pace to be of any visible use.
Upon the direction change the 4 pod members regrouped. Upon seeing Mannemerak I positioned our vessel in front of her roughly 300 m away and drove the vessel at slightly slower than her approach speed hoping that if she chose she would join us as she had done on all occasions before. She immediately swam up to the port aft quarter and with me leaning out of the vessel through the marlin door swam 1 ft under water directly under me for over two minutes on her side watching me, it was incredible. She then banked away from the vessel and rejoined Cleopatra.
We followed at distances varying from several meters, when they came to us, to over 500 m. The orcas headed S for roughly 1.5nm and then abruptly turned N. We followed astern and to the starboard side of them for roughly 3 miles upon which we positioned our vessel 300 m in front of them and disengaged the engines. They approached to within 50 m of us and altered course. It was at this point that I felt we may be overstaying our welcome as it was the first sign at any time that the orcas did not want us any closer. We then headed back to Simonstown with the orcas now heading in a SSE direction towards the centre of the bay.
It was truly fantastic to see these animals again and know they seemed all well.
Can’t wait for the next time!