29/01/21 Orcas don’t “Sleep”

 
 
The weather conditions weren’t comparable to any other day this season! if we were to come across the killer whales today, it was going to be mind-blowing!!!
 
Calm seas and low winds are in fact the perfect combination for orcas to just DISSAPEAR from our usual sighting grounds, commonly known as the “hotspot”. The pods favour rougher seas and a “noisier” backdrop in order to achieve optimal stalking capabilities! BUT luckily, for today at least, we had the momentum of the ever building swell to entice the apex predators to stay in their backyard.
 
After the calmest cruise out toward the canyon we’d already sighted multiple mola sp. aka sunfish, aka “swimming heads” (the German translation) – might I add these creatures are the largest (and funniest looking) bony fish on the planet reaching a whopping 3m and 2.5 tonnes!! Evolution hasn’t been kind to the sunfish but they’re very impressive to see! They received the name as they sunbathe their large disk-like torso at the surface on their sides to thermoregulate for up to ½ their day!!! (how leisurely) while they spend the other half munging on jellyfish!
 
The sun rays (not the fish) meant the algal blooms were flourishing at the surface and the thickest we’ve encountered yet! When the plumes are thick its known as the “red tide”, stretching across the entire hotspot and as far as the eye could see. In the past the presence of these naturally occurring algal blooms have previously forced the orcas to elude the area as it’s thought to irritates their skin with certain red tides being fatal to some marine life! Red tides occur naturally off coasts all over the world with the tiny red marine dinoflagellates often producing ichthyotoxins, but not all red tides are harmful. Thankfully and similarly to last week, today was quite the opposite!
 
We had split tip’s pod and the most adorable little juvenile intently diving for 8minute durations! Often with the juvenile surfacing prior to the rest of the group as if she was gasping to keep up! It wasn’t long until there was a white water eruption just off the bow! Surging, head thrashing and continuous porpoising from 2000m of water back toward the 1000m contour. The orcas use the vast cliff walls to force their prey to the surface! On this instant, there were no clear signs of a predation at the surface, no oil, no smell, no blood. The only sign of any disturbance was a bird swirl squawking over fishy remains!
 
As we left the hotspot to patrol the east we came across split-tips pod once again, the group were so docile, not diving at all, just skimming beneath the surface almost as if they were in autopilot to conserve their energy. It’s rare but we do see the killer whales sleep for short bursts. We as humans have a breathing reflex and when we sleep or become unconscious, we continue to breathe automatically. Orcas cannot sleep in this way, they have to remain conscious, even when they are sleeping! Orcas have the ability to turn off half their brain, they often all join up in a straight line known as an “echelon” formation and synchronise their breathing and shallow surface dive for up to 30 minutes at a time. It was a sleepy, sunny and SENSATIONAL end to a more unique day! #orcas#bremerbay#killerwhales
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