Killer whale sightings increase at cape
There has been an exciting new twist to the story of recent increased sightings of killer whales, also known as orcas, off the North West Cape, with a separate summer clan of the marine animals spotted making a return visit to the area.
The group was near Vlamingh Head Lighthouse on the northern tip of the cape on New Year’s Day, where they were spotted and photographed by locals Ben Gryta and Dave Lewington and reported to Marine Information and Research Group cetacean researcher John Totterdell.
Two of these killer whales matched animals spotted and photographed in the area by Ningaloo Blue Dive skipper Brad Webster and locals Violeta Brosig and Esther McDonald last February.
“In the February, 2015 sighting, the two animals came close enough to be photographed, but they were part of a much bigger pod implying they are the same group of 12 spot- ted this year,” Mr Totterdell said.
Just two days later, on January 3, a lone male killer whale was photographed near Exmouth’s navy pier by local Josh Brunner.
Male killer whales remain with their family pod for life, but occasionally go off by themselves to mate with females from other pods.
Mr Totterdell identified the lone male as the same animal which was filmed almost six years previously to the day, further down the cape off Tantabiddi by local resident Mark Panhuyzen in 2010.
“Suddenly in the course of just three days we had two repeat sightings,” he said.
Mr Totterdell said the whales his research group was studying were animals that visited the Ningaloo area in winter.
“This re-sight in consecutive years, together with the male resighted on January 3, indicate that Ningaloo may also be a summer habitat for a different clan of orca with a different prey preference to the better known winter animals who target humpback whale calves from June-October,” he said. He said recent bits of prey collected from the feeding pod of 12 animals on January 1 would provide an indication of the animals’ summer diet.
“This will be the first piece in the puzzle in the story of the summer orcas,” he said.
Mr Totterdell said this was also part of the whole story of all the groups of killer whales returning to the WA coast.
“We are seeing a lot of animals returning in the North West corner and the south coast, which is something relatively new in the marine science world,” he said.
“Sightings have continually increased over the last 10 years and now suddenly we’re getting these regular summer animals turning up.”
Mr Totterdell asked that if anyone was able to photograph killer whales while out on the water, to report their sightings to the Marine Information Research Group.
Killer whales photographed near Vlamingh Head Lighthouse on January 1 have researchers excited.