2014 Bremer Bay Canyon Expeditions

“The Search for the ocean’s Super Predator” documentary which went to air last November was a hit and led to a second research expedition in February 2014. Seats on the boat were available for purchase and the Shire of Jerramungup secured 10 seats on this second expedition, spread over two days. Eight residents, along with the Shire President and a Councillor, were selected to be part of this experience at a discounted rate.

Monday February 10th saw Cr Robert Lester, Cr Julie Leenhouwers, Karen Roberts, Anthony Thomas, Ashley Lester and Mark Lester head out on this expedition with sunny skies. It was a pretty calm day in all respects; the wind was up to about 15 knots from the south east when we kicked off then dropped to nothing by lunchtime. They encountered a small herd of killer whales (about a dozen) pretty much on the coordinate and observed them for around an hour.

They seemed to be hanging just under the surface, possibly resting for around 10 minutes at a time then surfacing and taking a very gentle breath. There was not much in the way of a spout to indicate they were even there.

They then decided to transect throughout the area and see what else was around. For the next 3 hours they didn’t see any signs of killer whales, only one lonely New Zealand fur seal sloshing about on the surface.

They noticed some very obscure blows a mile or so to the North West and they turned out to be killer whales and observed them for an hour or so. They didn’t see anything to indicate they were in the mood for feeding or being sociable.

Cr Rob Lester “Spectacular. I never imagined that it would be such a fantastic experience with so many whale sightings. The orcas were coming up so close to the boat you could clearly see their markings and even their blowholes. This is a hidden treasure just offshore from a place you visit so often, even when I’ve been out deep water fishing I never imagined these creatures were so close by.”

Cr Julie Leenhouwers “We were seeing the same whales over and over, I remember being able to identify some of the female whales from the differences in their fins. There was one whale that seemed to be following us in the boat. The differences in the brightness of the white colourings was very noticeable with some having quite a bright white and some being more yellowed. Dave mentioned that this colouring changes depending on the temperature of the waters the whales have come from which I found very interesting.”

Tuesday February 11th saw Tara Pittard, Beno Bertola, Jason Willcocks and myself, Sophie Browning, head out on this expedition. A stiff 25 knot south easterly wind and 2.5 metre swell marked the beginning of our journey out to the site and at the 400 metre contour we came across a pod of, what was estimated to be 1000 plus, common dolphins! We’re not sure what they were predating although we deployed the tow cam and saw some hefty whaler sharks in amongst them which was pretty cool!
We then continued south to the coordinate and came across a small group of motivated killers. We followed them south west for about 10 nautical miles. They really seemed to be on a mission although what they were after wasn’t apparent.

Fleshy footed shearwaters began congregating all around us and all of a sudden they became frantic and swarmed to a particular point in the ocean about a mile east from where we were. We fired up the twin v12s and motored across to where the activity had by now escalated into a full frenzy and saw literally hundreds of shearwaters diving and squabbling on the surface. Killer whales were charging all around us then all of a sudden a huge belch of bubbles and blood erupted on the surface right next to the boat.

The killer whales had obviously made a meal of something right below us but what it was we aren’t sure. The crew’s thinking a large shark. The crew had the towcam in the water throughout but the footage wasn’t viewed on the day.

One whale was breaching right out of the water two or three times just in front of the boat. The whale then disappeared from sight but it wasn't long before we spotted more. We had a group of about 6 whales cruising along beside the boat for about 5 minutes before disappearing off on another track.
We then headed back to Bremer Bay and it was a lovely end to an exciting day.