Today the canyon made us work hard. A sunny, still morning greeted us at the marina, the carpark lined with boat trailers confirming that those with smaller vessels were also taking advantage of the calm ocean conditions forecast. In contrast to the recreational boaters, calm conditions are something we view with trepidation.
Little or no wind, a small swell and sunny blue skies makes for a beautiful day out on the southern ocean, but can mean hard work when it comes to spotting orca. Rather than gathering in helpful airborne swirls that provide a clue to the location of the killer whales, the pelagic seabirds are able to spend time resting on the calm blue water. In addition, the Bremer Canyon killer whales are often less surface active in calm conditions, and blows are difficult to spot.
We enjoyed the gentle, rolling swells and sunny skies as we dropped over the edge of the continental shelf. We began to carefully search for signs of the orca. We saw none. The ocean was not devoid of interest though, our first encounter was with a fur seal that eyed us with relaxed curiosity as he rested on the calm blue sea. The conditions made it easy to spot other inhabitants of the southern ocean that are rarely seen on rough days, and we spotted a sunfish and a manta ray in quick succession.
We continued our track, pausing to study a large oil slick, evidence of a predation event in the unseen depths. The slick was attracting the attention of a group of 20-25 Wilson’s and White Faced Storm Petrels, tiny oceanic wanderers that feed on the energy rich oil. We stared at that slick and the surrounding ocean. Who had been hunting? What had they eaten? The depths gave us no answers. As we prepared to resume our treck, our patience was rewarded by a sighting of a 3m juvenile White Shark just below the surface. It was lifted in the clear glassy swells several times, providing great viewing for all on deck.
We continued the search. The boat was quiet, all eyes scanning the sea. By now, the sun was low in the sky and our afternoon would soon need to draw to a close. The atmosphere on board was one of contentment at the end of a beautiful day at sea, tinged by some feelings of regret that we had not seen orca. Never say never at the canyon though. Suddenly, the energy on board changed completely. Simultaneously excited shouts echoed around the vessel as the engines opened up, blows had been sighted in the distance!
All eyes focussed in that direction. Another powerful, forward angled blow shot from the surface. There is only one blow that looks like that.
The signature of the largest toothed predator on the planet shot from the sea a third time. We began to close the gap, and the large bulk slipped just beneath the waves. We knew it had not sounded as we saw no tail flukes. Another blow shot skyward nearby, followed by three more some 500m out. We were surrounded by Sperm Whales. We enjoyed our peaceful observation of the ocean giants and began to prepare to return to port.
Incredibly, as we stared into the sun where the sperm whale disappeared, a single unmistakable sharp black dorsal cut the calm silver surface. Did we really see that? The atmostphere on deck was electric. Not a single person took their eyes off the water. Suddenly, the shout went up from 10 year old Lily – THERE! And there they were. As if they had been there all day, six black dorsal fins rose in unison, only 200m off our port side. The overwhelming excitement of our lovely passengers was a joy to watch, while us crew muttered the odd half-joking “about time” admonishment in their direction. All was forgiven as we enjoyed the spectacular sight of Bindi, Shadow, Noosa and their pod traversing their southern ocean home. They were intent on business of their own to begin with, remaining 100-200m distant, but providing some amazing sightings regardless over the next hour, diving for minutes at a time and surfacing unexpectedly at another point around our vessel. An unseen signal must have passed among the group, and they headed directly for our vessel, making several close passes which topped off another beautiful day on the southern ocean.
The Bremer Canyon Crew