Written By Aaron
This morning I had a rather unusual alarm clock, I heard huge blows from two baleen whales right out in the bay at 4.30am. I heard them blow twice and then silently disappear into the ocean. The morning brought even more whales. Five minutes after getting up and into the lab Janie came running in, out of breath yelling “orca, orca”! Within minutes the lab was filled with people still pulling on clothes and shoes and then we were all on the balcony waiting in anticipation, we were not disappointed. Over to our right close to the shore the transient orca popped up from the water. It couldn’t have been a better experience for Sole and Megan as it was their first full day at Cetacealab, the water was perfectly still and the light was just coming up. Their blows travelled in the silent crisp air and they seemed to be very relaxed even though only twenty meters in front of them were three sea lions. We were all shocked that the sea lions hadn’t realized that four transient orca heading directly towards them. The orcas were gliding through the water towards the lab (and the sea lions) but they were travelling at a slow pace and didn’t seem like they were interested in hunting, possibly they had just eaten prior to coming into the bay. The sea lions finally realized that the orcas were close and swam off in front of the lab while the orcas took a deep dive, the sea lions stayed in a formation like a triangle but the orcas had already passed. It was an amazing experience and the orcas could not have been closer to the lab. What a start to the morning, I thought having such a close encounter with such beautiful animals was going to be the highlight of the day.
After breakfast Sole, Megan and I sat down with Janie as she explained how the lab was going to run, as I have been here for two weeks I already knew how most of it was going to run so I was casually keeping an eye on the water and just as I was looking out I thought I saw a huge black dorsal fin out near Ashdown Island. I didn’t mention anything to the girls as I still wasn’t sure. I got the binoculars and watched attentively for any sign of the orca. Then right in the middle of my binoculars this magnificent male orca came out of the water and it was huge, the whole orca breached and my first reaction was to shout “ORCA!!!” and everyone jumped up to look. I called Hermann and let him know that transients were hunting and he asked Megan and I to get ready to go out on the boat. It was a frantic rush down to the house to get survival suits, gas for the boat and most importantly the camera. Within five minutes we were on the boat and heading towards Casanave to find the orcas. It took about ten minutes to get out to Casanave and all the while I was staring intently at the water for any sign of the orca. By the time we caught up with them they had stopped hunting and were heading south towards sea lion rock. We followed and I took the camera out and started taking identification photos of the two orcas, which at first we thought were perhaps mother and son. We followed at a steady pace and eventually we got to sea lion rock, which was covered with sea lions some of which were sleeping and some which were being very vocal. The orca took a deep dive and we didn’t see them for a few minutes, everyone on the boat was quiet and I had the camera ready hoping to see one of the most amazing spectacles in nature, a transient orca hunting sea lions. Suddenly the intensity on the rock changed and the noise level from the sea lions sky rocketed it was so loud and they were all being very vocal. Then the orcas popped up and gradually began circling the rock, they made an attempt at catching a sea lion on the opposite side of the rock but just missed and then they returned to circling the rock. I was shocked to see that some of the sea lions were actually jumping into the water! The orcas were continually passing between the rocks and I took what is probably the best photo I have ever taken of the male and female orca passing right in front of the very conscious sea lions.
Then they disappeared again and I saw a small group of sea lions in the water on the side of the rock so I just pointed the camera at them and just waited. All of a sudden this huge wave came towards the sea lions and they were climbing over each other to get out of the water. The wave that the orca created was so powerful. Fortunately for the sea lions they escaped and the orcas finally gave up and headed off south. On the way back we were informed that two humpbacks were in the same channel so we stopped for identification photos and then headed back to the lab. What a morning! Two different encounters with transient orcas all before 11am!