It was a once in a lifetime day on yesterday’s expedition. It’s difficult to convey the incredible experience and the excitement and awe it inspired in all on board in words and pictures, but here goes. After a smooth trip, with small seas and little wind we arrived at our destination, and were greeted by a scene set with all the signs that our long expereince told us the killer whales were here. We waited, and watched, tension and anticipation in the air, all eyes seaward.
Suddenly, 400m out, they surfaced so quickly one passenger commented “did I really see that”? The pod again surfaced surruptitiously, fins only just breaking the surface before diving again several more times, appearing unsettled. Two large triangles belonging to bulls scythed the surface several times, at various points, but away from the main pod, and these two also seemed unsettled. We shut down our engines and drifted quietly to give them a chance to either get comfortable in our company or to leave of their own volition if they wished. We picked out familiar individuals, relaying names to our passengers. The pod remained some 300m distant, blows becoming more rythmic and predictable after around 20 minutes. They then moved away and we let them go. We never push an interaction if behaviour indicates it is not welcome. We set a course to continue our search, but within the hour, familiar fins showed us that the same pod were back, this time making many close passes of our vessel from all directions. Incredibly, we were able to watch one of the females invert and nurse her calf just off our starboard side. We enjoyed their company as they remained in our vicinity over the next hour.
Suddenly, as happens often the canyon, things changed in an instant. Some 800m distant, we could make out signs of another pod. But the behaviour of this pod was the polar opposite our current company. We knew what was about to happen, and readied our crew for action. The pod were porpoising through the swells, their bow waves explosions of whitewater as high as the whitecaps. We upped our speed to keep an eye on the distant action. The atmosphere on board was electric as we watched the ultimate demonstration of the power, speed and coordination that makes killer whales the oceans undisputed apex predator unfold. The dealdly black and white missiles surged in a line abreast a kilometer wide ahead of us. Killer whales seemed to come from everywhere, all intent on the distant action, now surging from the swells on our flanks and stern, catching us, keeping pace with us, sprinting ahead of our vessel.
An enormous patch of ocean erupted in a storm of whitewater spiked with sharp black dorsal fins ahead of us. We kicked our vessel into neutral and stared, spellbound as bright scarlet stains spread on the surface, and seabirds filled the air, seemingly multiplying by the second. The surface erupted once more but much closer to our vessel, a boiling mass of blood and bodies as multiple killer whales surfaced and dived, carrying and sharing enormous chunks of their hapless quarry. There were now around 30 killer whales of all ages and stages, from large bulls to young calves shredding their unfortunate prey. We were stunned at the lightening speed of the attack, their prey was set upon and torn to shreds in just minutes, and mostly below the surface so we were not able to positively identify the whale species that breathed it’s last today.
Over the next hour, we absorbed the scene of nature at it’s most raw as it unfolded before our eyes. We photographed the scene and the many other species attracted by the huge slick of oil and blood. Large sharks were easy to spot in the calm sunny conditions. We pointed out several large whaler sharks and many smaller ones, as well as at least one white shark. Things were very interesting on the bird front too. As well as the usual suspects – Wilson’s and White Faced Storm Petrels, Shy, Wandering and Indian Yellow Nosed Albatross and Flesh Footed Shearwaters, we photographed a Grey Faced Petrel and a very rare WA seabird, the beautiful Fairy Prion.
The Bremer Canyon Crew