ORCAS IN FALSE BAY

By Alan van Gysen ~ courtesy Wavescape
Orcas, also commonly known as ‘killer whales’, have always been met with a great deal of caution despite their friendly looks. This is perhaps a direct result of their sheer size, mind-boggling level of intelligence and perfected predatory skills. Strangely enough, despite the scary nickname, Orcas are more closely related to dolphins than whales.Although commonly found in oceans around the world, Orca sightings in False Bay and along the Cape peninsula have been somewhat uncommon and irregular in the past, and usually by terrified fisherman out at sea. In recent months, however, an unusual increase in public Orca sightings inside False Bay begs the question, why now?

Long time False Bay resident and Simonstown Boat Company owner David Hurwitz has spent a great deal of time documenting these highly intelligent creatures. He attributes this increase to the extremely high concentration of bait fish found in False Bay recently, which in turn attracts large pods of dolphin – the Orca’s staple diet.


One of the most remarkable local sightings of these sophisticated hunters occurred last week, when a pod was seen hunting a very large pod of dolphins close to Seal Island in False Bay. They were seen breaching spectacularly through the middle of a school of common dolphins. Orcas are apex predators, having no natural predators besides man. Individual populations often target in particular types of prey, like the common dolphin in False Bay, although they have been known to target whales and even sharks when tempted. This past Saturday a pygmy sperm whale washed up on the beach at Muizenberg, having sustained injuries from what is suspected to be an Orca attack.

In 1997 a group of tourists and a biologist witnessed one of the only documented Orca attacks on a great white shark off the Farallon Islands near San Francisco. It was reported that the great white shark population then left the area for the remainder of the season. False Bay has one of the largest resident Great White shark populations in the world, and now that the Orcas have arrived, could this mean a drop in shark sightings in False Bay for the rest of winter? For now anyway, it doesn’t seem to have affected the weekly sightings of great whites along our shores as recorded by The Shark Spotters program. But we will keep you posted.

From a surfers point of concern, Orcas pose no immediate threat, with no recorded attacks on humans outside of captivity. But as with any wild animal we should respect and protect their space. There are possibly three or four pods of Orca in False Bay at present, with roughly three to seven individuals in each pod. The Orcas have been here since February.

For more info and updates on Orca sightings and photographs please visit: http://www.facebook.com/boatcompany


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