We left at 9am today as the boat was so rough and rocky yesterday. We were all looking out for birds as these would lead us to the herring, and then the orca. There was also an opening in the sky, showing a beautiful sunrise. We quickly found some fishing boats and pods of orca feeding from them, and before long two humpbacks arrived as well! The waves were crashing against the boat and the snow and sleet was really hammering down!
Tonight we had an informal chat with a Norwegian orca survey team, who study the whales’ behaviour. They study their eating patterns, travel routes and the particular tail-slaps which they use to stun herring. By documenting the orcas’ fins and saddle patches, they can even tell individuals apart. We were also told a story about an orca getting stuck in a fishermen’s net during a hunt, after which the rest of the pod stopped chasing the herring and tried to free the trapped orca from the net; unfortunately, their efforts weren’t enough, and the orca died. The team went on to talk about their tagging of orcas, and their contributions to the footage used in Blue Planet II. They also study how old orcas live for, with the best current estimate being around 75 for females and 65 for males.
We also watched some of Pat’s drone footage, and you can the big male orcas doing a non-enthusiastic “pre-slap” when hunting the herring ball... This behaviour has not been scientifically explained, so we discuss possible theories: are they teaching young calves how to tail-slap themselves, or maybe tricking the herring into thinking they’ve been spared so they don’t expect a second, much more forceful slap? Whatever the case, it’s been really fascinating to talk about the orcas with people who know so much about them, and be lucky enough to witness some as yet undescribed behaviour!