The first cetacean we came across today was not black and white (Orca) but in fact the largest member of the toothed whale family, a Sperm Whale. This beast logged on the surface before raising his tail high and plunging to the depths to battle for food. This unique animal species has stood the test of 140 years of Australian whaling especially in these waters. When whaling operations had ceased and the last flensing knife laid down out of Cheyne’s Beach Whaling Station in 1978, they had processed almost 600 sperm whales just in the last season! Luckily for this fella his days are spent without the worry of a harpoon attack.
This morning we had an indication that the orcas were in the area as the sky was dotted with pelagic birds including a humungous juvenile Wandering Albatross, while the surface showed predation remnants such as a large oil slick and consequently the little Storm Petrels which danced along the slick taking up beads of oil for sustenance.
It wasn’t until after lunch that we found the Orcas! Three pods, Alki’s pod and Noosa’s pod being among those we witnessed most, were foraging and although there was a lack of food scraps on the surface the oil slicks gave away what was currently occurring below us in the depths! This interaction had thrills and spills as we punched up into the swell our passengers received a sea salt facial and then were able to gather themselves and steady their cameras in the lee of the vessel as it spun with the orcas.
The Orcas began surging, with the crew exchanging a glance of shared excitement, we knew they were off. Within minutes their behaviour had changed and the three pods were now moving with pace in a line formation! With the orca surfing the crystal clear swell lines we could make out the shapes of their massive bodies and we didn’t even need them to surface to know where they were! We were now with the sprouting male Urkel and two friendly sub-adults just before the orca’s slowed and began diving on a particular spot coming up every time empty handed… Had something just escaped them, or were they trying to hone in and find out the location of potential prey… either way it was to no avail.
We meandered back along the canyon systems towards home and a quick stop at Glasse Island delighted our passengers to see the huge male who has been inhabiting the island for the last few weeks. He is almost double the size of the females and is typically seen yawning or fast asleep which conceals his true strength and speed.