Sunday September 20, 2009 - Close Encounters of
the Killer Whale Kind
it to say this was a trip that I for one will never forget and neither
will our skipper, Richard Ternullo.
Richard has been a skipper on the bay for 35 years. He and Nancy Black
have been conducting research on Transient Killer Whales for many
years. He's had numerous interactions with Killer Whales but never
has he seen anything like we did this day.
We already had a very satisfying encounter with a pod of Risso's Dolphins
that uncharacteristically approached the boat and milled around us.
Admittedly, the seabirding is a bit on the slow side when we notice
some bird activity up ahead of us. Gulls are circling about, and we
know why when we spot the distinctive black dorsal fins of KILLER
WHALES/ORCAS. I'm doing some fist pumping. I never tire of seeing
these animals and count myself fortunate in having had the great luck
to interact with them on several occasions.
As we pull up the Killer Whales approach the boat swimming all around
us. One of the females lifts her flukes out of the water and waves
at us. The surface of the water has a layer of oil on it and with
the gulls overhead we know that the Killer Whales must have just made
On other occasions we've had Killer Whales approach the boat with
prey items in their mouths. It is as if they want to show you what
they have and they seem to enjoy playing with their food, dead or
alive. I am just saying this to someone on the boat when one of the
females approaches the boat with the skeletal remains of what I think
is a California sea lion sticking out of her mouth.
She swims straight up to our boat near the bow and actually makes
contact with it. She lifts her head out of the water with the prey
dangling out of her mouth as if offering us a bite!
All of us on board are shocked and awed at this. The Killer Whales
swim around the boat on their sides looking up at us humans hanging
over the rail. Some playful tail slaps near the back of the boat get
some of us wet. There are five Orcas in all: an adult male, a subadult
male (aka a sprouter), a calf and two females. Each of them approaches
us at one time or another.
While we're watching we see one of the females and a calf grab a COMMON
MURRE and play with it for a few minutes before eating it. The
youngsters learn to prey upon smaller prey items like this. I've seen
them eat Rhino Auklets too.
This is part of the group that are known as the "Friendly Pod" as
they have been known to interact with boats on many other occasions
and have even done some bow riding, thus the appropriate name.
I'm trying to get it all on video and fielding questions at the same
time when three of the Killer Whales approach the boat with guts trailing
out of the male's mouth; a female and her calf take the prey from
the mouth of the male and swim right up to us. As she approaches us
the female's blowhole clears the water and she vocalizes into the
air in a dolphin, squeaky way. We are all amazed at this.
Todd Easterla says, "Hello love," and she comes to surface and does
it again with a punctuation of what Richard calls a fart blow or raspberry
through her blowhole.
We are having interspecies contact of the third kind. These animals
are genuinely interacting with us. I can't help but speculate that
they might be attempting to share food with us, make us feel welcome.
They seem to be as interested in seeing us as much as we are interested
in seeing them. Several pass by just under the rail swimming on their
sides looking up at us looking down at them.
We've notified the whale watch fleet and soon the first boat arrives
on the scene. We've had our time with them alone but time is limited
and now we need to get back to seabirding. As we pull away the male
does a series of breaches as if to send us off.
Over the P.A. Richard tells everyone, "You will probably never have
an experience with Transient Killer Whales like that ever again in
your entire life."
Driving away I'm choked up, for me this is the stuff of dreams. Richard
and I just keep looking at each other saying over and over, "WOW!
What was that all about?"
Check out the video I shot:
Be sure to have the volume up (starting around 4 minutes 28 seconds)
to hear the female Orca vocalize.
marine mammal show didn't end there. We also had some close passes
by three BLUE WHALES one of which fluked up two times for us.
I said to everyone that this was the best whale watch I'd ever been
on, but it was a seabird trip so on to the seabirds.
One FLESH-FOOTED SHEARWATER was very accommodating in flying
in around the boat for some time to delight everyone on board, especially
the photographers. We had two MERLINS flyover and a single
We also had a shorebird fly by that photographer Jeff Poklen managed
to get a few shots of. It was the first pelagic record for Monterey
of a juvenile SHARP-TAILED SANDPIPER.
Keen-eyed Dutch birders on the bow spotted a single BLACK-VENTED
We did manage to locate the storm-petrel flocks but they were comprised
solely of ASHY STORM-PETRELS. Inside the bay we were lucky
to find a few SABINE'S GULLS and SOUTH POLAR SKUAS.