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
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.
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.
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.
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.