Tag Archives: Orcas in Tasmania

Orca attacks a baby Dolphin off Eaglehawk Neck

This Orca charges towards our boat as the Dolphin calf tries to get away from its predator.

Witnessing Killer Whales predate on a Bottlenose Dolphin calf

The passengers of two of our Scenic Tours had a once in a lifetime experience on Saturday when we witnessed a pod of Orcas hunt and kill a Bottlenose Dolphin calf. We’ve been collaborating with researchers from Killer Whales Australia since we started our boat tour business in 2014 and we have been waiting to capture a moment like this for years! It’s like watching a wildlife documentary unfold right in front of your eyes!

Orca herds the baby dolphin & pushes it out to sea

An Orca popped up beside our vessel, getting ready for the attack on the Dolphin calf.

It all started with a big splash that our skipper spotted on the first tour on Saturday morning. We’re in the middle of the Humpback Whale migration and everyone on board was keen to find some active whales. As we headed in the direction where the splash was spotted, we came across a pod of Bottlenose Dolphins. Usually, Bottlenose Dolphins are extremely playful creatures and tend to charge towards our boat to play in the wake. This time, they behaved differently. The Dolphins seemed to have split into several smaller groups heading in different directions. It was obvious that something was going on and within seconds we spotted the large black dorsal fin of an Orca.

This photo shows the Orca rounding up the tiny baby Dolphin (to the left of its dorsal fin).

We are still waiting for the researchers from Killer Whales Australia to confirm this, but it was likely a female Orca who separated a Dolphin calf from the pod, herded it and made it swim further out to sea. We watched the brutal attacks from the Orca, charging at the helpless little Dolphin calf, pushing it and grabbing it by its pectoral flipper.

The baby Dolphin tried hard to get away from its predator, even swam towards our boat several times to seek cover. It appeared that the Orca just wanted to let the dolphin calf wear itself out.

Orca charging at the Dolphin calf upside down.
The Killer Whales grabs the baby Dolphin by its pectoral flipper as it tries to escape.

Will we find the Killer Whales again on our 2nd trip?

It was hard to leave the scene, but we had already extended our trip by 50 minutes and we had the next group of people waiting at the pier, eager to get out on the water as well. So we headed back to the pier to swap groups. Everyone knew it was a very slim chance to find the Orcas again as about an hour would have passed by the time we got back out to the area where we expected the Orcas to be. We called some recreational fishermen on the way out, but no-one had seen the Killer Whales. As we approached the area where we would expect the Orcas, we slowed down to scan the surroundings and there was certainly a lot of luck involved when the huge dorsal fin of a male Orca appeared.

Two Killer Whales side by side.

Not long after, we saw the baby Dolphin floating on the surface. One of the Orcas grabbed it again and it was super sad to watch the little dolphin die. At the same time it was a very humbling experience for everyone on board to be there at the right time when those incredible apex predators made a successful kill. The Orcas then popped up again with open flesh in their mouths which proves that the dolphin was killed to feed on and not just for play. This is valuable data for the researchers. Over the last few years we have been supporting a PHD candidate who is looking into the diet of Killer Whales in South East Australian waters. You can check out this blog post to find out more about the research that has been done off the Tasman Peninsula.

Wildlife gifts for Easter

Another proof of the significance of this area for marine wildlife

A female Orca, known to the Eastern Australian Killer Whale Database, with her tiny calf.

We’ve had an amazing diversity of wildlife on our recent tours during the Easter holidays, which demonstrates again that the Ocean surrounding the Tasman Peninsula is an area of significance for a variety of marine life. Keep scrolling to read about our special encounters with Orcas, Humpback Whales, a Southern Elephant Seal and a Sunfish.

The youngest Orca ever sighted in Tasmanian waters

On April 1st, we had the privilege to spend some time with two female Killer Whales one of which had a tiny calf by her side. The mother is known to the Eastern Australian Killer Whale Database as ‘EA_0004’ or ‘Square notch 1’ due to the square notch in the back of her dorsal fin (see photo above). We had the feeling that her baby was very young, as it still had a yellow staining and visible fetal folds from being curled up in its mothers womb.

On this photo the yellow staining and the fetal folds of the young Orca calf are visible.

After checking our ID photos, David Donnelly from Killer Whales Australia confirmed that the little calf was only days old when we sighted the pod. This is really exciting, because it means that it was born in Tasmanian waters. It is the first recorded sighting of such a small calf here on this coastline and therefore very important information for the researchers.

These are the two female Orcas with the tiny calf surfacing.

The other female of the pod is also known to Killer Whales Australia, but it hasn’t had a name and number allocated yet. The researchers of Killer Whales Australia use scientific methods for the identification process of the Orcas. The process starts with assigning images to an individual animal. Photos of both sides (if available) of the dorsal fins, eye patches and saddle marks will then be analysed. Lastly, at least two additional independent observers have to agree on the individual animal, so it can be given a unique identification number and be added to the catalogue. We expect that this female is going to get an ID number allocated this year. 🙂

Early Humpback Whales

Our first Humpback Whale of the northern migration.

Usually we start to see the first Humpback Whales swim past the coastline of the Tasman Peninsula on their northern migration in early May. It was a big surprise to see the first Humpback Whale a few days ago in early April.

This individual was showing its tail a lot, so we got to capture the first fluke shots for the Tasmanian Fluke Project, a project we set up in collaboration with marine biologist Dr. Maddie Brasier in 2020 to record and identify Humpback Whales in Tasmanian waters. We identified 129 new flukes in our first year which greatly exceeded our expectations.

The first ID photo of a Humpback Whale’s fluke for our Tasmanian Fluke Project.

We’ve sighted this individual whale two days in a row and while I am typing this I heard about another Humpback that was sighted this morning at Cape Hauy.

Another Sunfish

After we spotted the blow of the Humpback Whale in the distance, we stopped the boat to get another visual. It was coincidence that we stopped right next to a sunfish that slowly swam up to the surface. We’ve had a lot of sunfish sightings this season. Check out this video of a Bumphead Sunfish that we posted to our Instagram page not long ago.

Most of our passengers have never seen a sunfish before and this one was quite an inquisitive one, so we hung with its for a little while until it decided to move on. BTW have you ever seen photos of a baby sunfish? If you haven’t, I highly recommend checking out this article of livescience.com showing photos of arguably one of the cutest baby animals on Earth.

A Southern Elefant Seal

Another big surprise for us was seeing a Southern Elephant Seal amongst the pups at the seal colony. A creature with two big eyes stared at us from in amongst the kelp. It looked a bit like E T at first and very different to the Fur Seals. As it lifted its body up a bit, it was clear that it was an Elephant Seal.

Is this E T or an Elephant Seal? 🙂

Southern Elephant Seals once bred on King Island in Tasmania, but were sadly wiped out by the sealing industry. According to DPIPWE, each year in Tasmania an average of eight Elephant Seals are reported. The age of the animals visiting Tasmania’s shores varies from yearling animals (one year old) to animals of 16 or more years off age. The closest breeding area of Elephant Seals is Macquarie Island (a UNESCO World Heritage Site in the Southwestern Pacific Ocean, about half-way between New Zealand and Antarctica and politically a part of Tasmania).

A Southern Elephant Seal on the Tasman Peninsula near cape Pillar.

Fun fact: Southern Elephant Seals are the deepest diving seal in the world. Females have been recorded diving as deep as 1600m with dive durations of up to two hours (information gathered from the DPIPWE website).

We hope you’ve enjoyed reading this post. If you’d like to join one of our tours and support us with our marine research projects, you can book your trip here or contact us anytime for more information about the different tour options.