Friday 11 August 2017

At Home (Sea) with the Orcas

Wednesday 9 August

Orca (Killer Whale) Orcinus orca

The advert stated that there would be a 30% rebate if no Orcas were seen.  No need for the company to worry about refunds today as we, on arrival in the feeding area, found well in excess of thirty individuals.  Indeed, so many we were unable to tell whether there was a large pod or we simply seeing the same animals many times over.  With a capacity boat and a good hour out of Tarifa to reach the area, rather than a three hour cruise it was almost four hours by the time we returned just before 6pm.  As has already been mentioned in the previous (bird) blog, there very very few birds on this trip and most were nearer the shore.  However, in total we recorded three Storm Petrels and, after much debate with local Spanish birding expect Juan Garcia, we are pretty sure that at least two were the very rare for the area Wilson's Storm Petrel Paino de Wilson Oceanities oceanicus.
I guarantee that the two to three thousand guests on the passing cruise ship did not see what we saw!     

Too late now but we were informed by the crew members that the Orcas tend to feed on the passing Red Tuna in the morning during their approximate three weeks in the area.  The feeding frenzy leaves much waste which is greedily snapped up by the birds, a few gulls but mainly shearwaters, skuas and storm petrels.  This year's added interest was the presence of the rare-visiting Wilson's Storm Petrel.  In addition to the Orcas, it was fascinating to see a handful of Sun Fish.  Just think of a very large, vertical disc, probably about 50cm in diameter, with a very small fin on top.   Having just seen one I raised my camera to take a photograph and then, presumably, photographed the wrong image below the water.  Take a look at the following photographs and see if you can determine what it might be.  It appears to have a "flag" or marker attached to it and I wonder if this might be the remains of some late departed Tuna.  Any ideas?

Dead fish (Note the flag in the top picture), waste or what?
One big beast. This male is more like a miniature submarine
Almost too close for comfort.  Make sure you keep your arm out of the water!

This is a male Orca.  Note the tall, upright dorsal fin.

In comparison, look at the fin of the female with her calf.  A much smaller dorsal and a definite "kink" to the rear.

Notches and minor variations to the outline help the observers to identify individual Orcas
Keep up son and don't upset Daddy (above)!
OK, I've taught you how to capture the fish now let's try and pinch one from the nets.  But make sure you know how to run (swim) if a boat turns up.

Looks like trouble so it's, "Dive, dive, dive!"

And if the worse come to the worst there's always a few relatives around to help you out.

Nobody looking?  Check out the nets for some easy feeding but don't let the boat see you!

And so ended a marvellous afternoon with many memories to be cherished for months to come.  And next time we will make sure that we catch a morning "watch" when the Orcas are more likely to be feeding on the Tuna and so encouraging visiting shearwaters and petrels to feed on the scraps.

Check out the accompanying website at for the latest sightings, photographs and additional information.

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