Two words, DARK and STORMY!! We were witness to torrential downpours, cracks of thunder shaking your insides and the gloomy skies brightening from sporadic flashes of lightning as we loaded our customers this morning! As we went about our daily procedures NOBODY could’ve even IMAGINED what would unravel on today’s tour!! The story usually goes, “as we dropped over the continental shelf…” but not today! The hotspot is 24 nautical miles from land BUT today we had barely reached 16 mile when the boat came to a halt! Birds GALORE, dorsal fins EVERYWHERE and an oil slick as far as the eye could see! All of which, had NEVER before been observed in 70m of water, before even dropping over the shelf of Australia. It is very rare for orca to even venture above the shelf, with the majority of their hunting/feeding behaviour happening at or beyond the 1000m deep hotspot! It was such an ominous day, the clouds became darker, the thunder came closer and the lightening seemed brighter!!! We couldn’t BELIEVE IT…..These incredible machines coordinated the most unthinkable, impressive and outright mind-blowing kill of their lives….that we know of….the orca took down an 15-18m (juvenile) BLUE WHALEEEEEEEE, I repeat, BLUE WHALEEEEE!!!! The LARGEST animal to EVER exist, their tongue alone weighs the same as an elephant. The animal that’s heart is the size of a small car, the animal whose aorta you can crawl through!! Again, a BLUE WHALE!!!! As we approached the activity the blue whale was still at the surface, right alongside and soon beneath the Project Orca & CETREC research vessel, whom called us in! The orcas energy rose by the second, thrashing, tail slapping and white water surrounded our vessel. The orca were lunging their heads above the surface, launching their peduncles high into the sky as they propelled their bodies deeper! Bulls, juveniles and females with their calves ALL part of the takedown. It was hard to know where to look as dorsal fins flashed swiftly in every direction, darting both toward and away from the vessel. The orca had previously taken large chunks out of the blue whales dorsal and rostrum before disabling the animal as it bled out and started to sink. By now the limp blue whale had sunk below the surface and out of our sight. In the meantime the crew were completely and utterly GOBBSMACKED!!!
HOW and WHY had this happened?! Why was today any different? Were they hungry with the lack of predations since their peak in February? Were the orca venturing up toward the coast? Had they heard the call of a helpless juvenile blue whale in the distance? At this point there were so many unknowns! The orca predominantly feed on beaked whales and to take down something 25 times its weight is a feat in itself let alone INSANE!!!!! These animals are ruthless killers that, to their benefit, can work together in such an effortless manner, crowning them as the APEX PREDATORS! The blue whale is estimated to have weighed 100 tonne, the equivalent of our 100 man boat, TWO TIMES!!!! The orca were feeding on the whale for the whole duration of our tour, approximately 7 hours, still feeding when we departed the canyon!! Throughout the day the orca made multiple close passes with the boat with meat tightly clenched in their mouths. The orcas mentality was different today, never quite acknowledging us or interacting as they usually do, more controlled and fierce behaviour. Of the estimated 50+ orca surrounding us today there were SO many recognisable groups, El Notcho, Urkel, Mako, Nibbles, Kodja, Koomba and Bears pods to name a few!!! Today signifies the importance of the Bremer Sub-Canyon in its entirety. This season alone we have sighted both bird and marine mammal species for the first time in Australia waters, the largest number of beaked whale predations and the first EVER predation on a blue whale in Australia. This is an incredibly unique part of the world that, even after five years, is still so unknown, and for that reason we get up every day just as excited as the one before! Bring on tomorrow! (Stay tuned for blue whale images!)