Killer whale sight­ings in­crease at cape

Pilbara News - - Pilbara News - ■ Bran­wen Smith

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.

Pic­ture: Ben Gryta

Killer whales pho­tographed near Vlam­ingh Head Light­house on Jan­uary 1 have re­searchers ex­cited.

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