Our day started quite slow as we only had fleeting glimpses of the orca around the hotspot. Two or three pods spread out over the white capped sea made for some close passes but the orca seemed distracted spending 2-3 minutes on the surface and then another 5 minutes under the water.
By 11:30am the excitement increased as surging orca were ahead pulling us southwest away from the hotspot and along the 900m deep contour line. 15 minutes had passed and the now 3 pods began diving again on one particular spot. We patiently waited to witness a hunt but the orca seemed to keep coming up short. The orca would have spent a lot of energy surging forward and diving and since there was no evidence of a feed they must have been hungry!
After lunch two bulls and a group of sub-adults ventured close to the boat, one bull even testing his courage by approaching and diving right under the bow of the boat resulting in squeals and cheers from passengers on the front observation deck.
A pleasant visit from a sunfish was quickly overlooked as the call came down from the crow’s nest that orca were surging again.
This time heading back towards the hotspot and with a bit more pace! What felt like only seconds had passed and more and more orca joined coming in from all directions, when suddenly a beaked whale appeared within the masses of orca! Everyone on board was holding their breath as we hoped this wasn’t going to be another missed opportunity for the orca!!
Almost forty minutes passed as the orca seemed very casual as up to 16 at a time mobbed the beaked whale waiting for the right moment to strike the fatal blow! It seemed all ages of orca were involved in this hunt from large bulls trailing 100m behind to small calves closely following their mum right up in the heat of it! This seemed to be a training exercise as the calves and sub-adults were given passage to approach the prey and attempt some manoeuvres!
The eyes in the sky, albatross and shearwaters, quickly clouded the area as Orca were rushing from the stern of the boat acting as backup to the main pod hunting the whale. A large swirl of bird indicates that there may be scraps appearing at anytime!
The beaked whale wasn’t giving up and made a break for it by putting 50m between it and the orca! However the orca were quick to respond by catching back up when a bite from one of the larger orcas on the beaked whales back started the blood trail but it didn’t end there! The whale continued swimming along the surface while the relentless orca kept pushing it down. The beaked whale’s blow became smaller and it was evident he was running out of puff. The trailing orca must have sensed this as they were breaching, porpoising, spy hopping, rolling and playfully interacting with each other!
By now it had been over an hour since the start of the hunt and the beaked whale was showing obvious bite marks and exhaustion. The orca’s spared us from the graphic scenes as the final damage was done below the surface, a large oil slick soon rose up from the depths indicating the kill had been made. The beaked whale never surfaced again and the satisfied orca began turning up with lumps of meat in their mouths. The energy in the air was rife as birds squabbled for leftovers and our passengers pinched themselves trying to comprehend what they had just witnessed!
True, raw, and wild nature at its finest, and we had a front row seat!