For the last few winters we have traveled to areas around the world to learn about different whale populations. This not only gives us a better understanding of the whales we watch in the San Juan Islands, it gives us a deeper appreciation of the uniqueness, diversity and beauty of the Salish Sea. It provides a broader context to our local ecosystem and its wildlife inhabitants. With this global understanding we can provide broader education on our tours as well as better advocacy for the marine mammals and wildlife of the Salish Sea.
This winter several of us spent time in Bremer Bay, Australia, on the coast of the Southern Ocean. We spent several days on the water learning about a very unique and exciting population of killer whales. Unlike the Bigg's killer whales and Southern Resident orcas we see in the Pacific Northwest, very little is known about this population of whales that was discovered less than 15 years ago!
We do know they are generalist eaters, hunting both fish and marine mammals, and there have been many documented predation events on beaked whales. They are genetically related to the Bigg's killer whales of the Pacific Northwest and some of their vocals are similar to Antarctic Type A orcas.
These killer whales are seen 35 miles offshore of Bremer Bay, where the continental shelf drops off into an underwater canyon. And they are only seen there between January - April. Other than that, there have been no documented sightings of these individuals anywhere else. We do not know where they spend the other months of the year or even if they are all together the rest of the year. It is possible the aggregation of killer whales in Bremer Canyon includes different populations meeting up for these few months.
Over the course of three days we witnessed hours of social behaviors in the crystal clear blue waters off the continental shelf.