The sky was alive with seabirds and the ocean with active orca today. In all directions, seemingly at all distances, the grey swells were misted with the small clouds of the breath of mutiple killer whales. As we approached the nearest pod, familiar fins cut through the slaty swells, some of our passengers picking out Split Tip and Razor immediately.
As we moved to investigate, we were in for a surprise. While the rest of the pod stood off, circled by seabirds, three small killer whlales left their family behind and approached us with unmistakable curiosity. These 3 range in age from 12 months to 3-4 years, and have reached that delightful stage common to all juvenile mammals where curiosity and play are an important part of learning and survival. Of course this makes for incredible interactions. Our guests had countless direct approaches as the youngsters flashed along beside the boat just under the surface, and then cut right across our bow, surfacing with small lunges and tail slaps, doubling back over and over for repeat performances, turning to eye the watchers on the bow as they skimmed past. Incredibly, they also hung motioonless just below the surface, studying the individual watchers on deck.
All day, we were expecting something spectacular. The entire ocean had a feeling to it, clues we have learned to read by careful observation of bird and whale behaviour. The killer whales would form up in a line abreast and charge off in persuit of an unseen goal, and then dive for long minutes at a time. Isolated groups converged, surged, then submerged, slapping their tails repeatedly, rolling, lunging and spy hopping, a term used to describe whales lifting their heads above the water to scan the sea surface. Small patches of whitewater and splashing marked interesting but undeen activity below.
As we scanned the seas, we were suddenly galvanised. Did we just see that? Ahead a killer whale breached on the horizon. The stowm of whitewater created by the gravity defying leap of an 8 ton breaching killer whale can be seen kilometers away. But it wasn’t just one breach. And it wasn’t just one animal. In a 180 degree arc at varying distances ahead, killer whales erupted from the sea surface in breathtaking breaches. This was clearly a call to action, as at least 20 killer whales begn to surge alongsite, before outpacing us to catch up the the other 20 ahead.
A full throated roar from the diesel motors under our deck echoed around our vessel as our skipper put the hammer down. The Alison Maree at full noise rocketing through the southern ocean is an expereince in itself, dramatic and exhilarating. We cannot hope to keep up with a pod of killer whales porpoising at top speed, and our aim was to keep to pod in sight. We were managing. Just. We hung on and watched at the breaches ahead just kept coming. Those on the back deck hung on gamely and watched in awe as the killer whales rocketed in our wake, exploding from the swells, the power and menace of an 8 ton orca on a mission to kill just meters from us.
As we neared the killer whales ahead, we slowed our pace, and stared in stunned silence . And what a show it show it was. All around, the killer whales launched from the sea surface swells surged through the swells trailing streams of whitewater to mark their re entry in case we were looking in the wrong direction. That was very easy to do, as there were at least 15 individuals engaging in multiple, prolonged breaching sequences. Some animals breached a kilometer our, some alongside. Breathtaking, gravity defying leaps.
Whatever happened in the depths today remained unseen, but the multitude of seabirts and the sizable slicks on oil that surfaced perioddically tell their own story. No one was going hungry today.
The Bremer Canyon Crew