We didn’t even need to search for killer whales today. As we dropped over the edge of the continental shelf, ahead of us in the deep water a pod surfaced. As we approached, we could see that there were they were up to something interesting. What was it? The group were very active, and as we watched, they surfaced, and just below the surface, clearly visible through the clear blue water they rolled together, inverted, tail slapped and spy hopped. The youngest member of the group spy hopped several times, clearly interested in getting a better view of us. Why do whales and dolphins spy hop? For once, the answer to this question is as obvious as it seems. The head is held out of the water to visually inspect the environment above the water line. Orca are known as one of the most prolific spy-hopping species.
The rolls and tail slaps continued, and then, one of the pod launched from the sea surface, followed almost immediately by another. As they hung suspended in mid air, still others in the pod slapped their tails, rolled together and surged together, their positions and activity clearly visible thanks to the black and white markings that were clearly visible at the surface through the water. As we watched, tails were raised in slaps and left suspended in salutes. Pectoral fins poked through the surface too, a jumble of bits of killer whale that we couldn’t separate into a who is who. Riveted, we watched the activity unfold. Breach followed breach, and another pod, further out off our 3 o’clock followed suit, the ocean surface now scattered with rings of whitewater to mark where each animal had been on the otherwise calm blue expanse.
This was likely a call to action. Unexpectedly, the pods both began to travel. We of course followed their lead. They took us from the deep waters of the canyon to the continental slope, and then up onto the shelf where the water depth was less than 100m. This is something we have rarely seen, so our excitement and interest was high. We now had three pods in shallow water, all of which appeared to be feeding. We can do no more than speculate, but the appeared to be herding small prey, making good use of intense tail slapping an chasing their quarry just below the surface. Small groups would then begin a series of tight u shaped dives we have learned to associate with feeding. Birds circled overhead above individuals that clearly had food.
They dived and landed on the surface in squabbling almost orca-shaped groups each time an individual surface. Incredibly, as a calf surfaced amongst the group, we could clearly hear the sounds of it vocalising with squeaky whistles. We fell silent, listening, and could make out fainter calls from others in the pod. The activity continued all around us for most of the afternoon, with feeding interspersed with close approaches of our vessel. They alternated surging alonglside in line abreast formation with making lazy curious circuits, slowly swimming around the boat, rolling on their sides to make their own observations of the delighted expeditioners. The tine to turn for home arrived,, smiles sealed on our expeditioners faces.
The Bremer Canyon Crew