Bremer Bay Killer Whale Expeditions 2021 HIGHLIGHTS
2021, the season we did not think was going to happen. It was hard to ignore the fact that Western Australia was completely locked off to the rest of the world. We were here in our little bubble and are so thankful for the power of the internet so we could remotely share our season with YOU ALL that could not make it to our shore.
Here is a recap on the last four months. A season of rarities and oddities. Heart melting juxtaposed with hair raising and overwhelming encounters. We had it all, plus some. Some of our legends hung up their cameras, as they advanced their skill sets in new career endeavours. This left space for few new faces amongst the crew. Read on for a 2021 season wrap up and then special mentions and thank you’s. I have also included favourite moments from those who bring you a snapshot of our day, the photographers.
Image by Pia Markovic
Firstly some statistics!
We operated for 92 days with a 97% orca sighting success in the first three months!! That equates to almost 800 hours on the water in Bremer Bay. Over TEN different species of cetaceans (whales and dolphins) were sighted with a maximum of SIX sighted in one day (in the last week of the season). SIX families of orca dominated our encounters this season, with plenty of unknown individuals and foreign families joining in on the action!
A season of rarities and oddities:
Orca predations weren’t as commonly encountered this season but when we did, they were some of the biggest! The hairs on the back of your neck stand up as you watch a pod of orca navigate and cooperate to take down their prey. Especially when the prey is the largest animal on the planet! The blue whale. Only the third of its kind recorded in the world (all three have been here in Bremer Bay). An epic battle unfolded for almost three hours, not a game to be rushed, as strategy and persistence proved the winning combo. The orcas, were victorious. They feasted on this 100 plus tonne animal for an entire day, celebrating their success with spectacular aerial displays, such as breaching, the most sought after interaction by passengers.
Image by Pia Markovic
This celebratory behaviour was common throughout the season. Whether it was after a kill or for social reasons they certainly put on a show! Split Tip, aka the ‘huntress’, matriarch and big boss of the Bremer canyon was the instigator the majority of the time. Erupting out of the water and doing her signature side body slam move back onto the surface. This was the signal. Orca in the area, from the largest male bulls to the smallest calves would copy returning the message. Blackberry, a bull orca, made sure we got our annual breaching photograph of him by giving us plenty of opportunities. The distinct clicking of camera shutters was more prominent on the breaching days. Never knowing where they would be next. Passengers and crew froth levels hitting maximum when they realised they captured a clear breach.
Multiple species of Beaked whale, a minke whale, a blue whale, squid and a variety of fish were all at the mercy of the orca, the apex predator. An unsuccessful hunt left a humpback dorsal-less and battle wounds to show its mates. Some unfortunate beaked whales didn’t live to tell the tale, immobilised and skinned within 30 seconds! The diverse orca diet here ensures enough sustenance for the large population, especially with THREE new calves born. This region has a high success rate for calves. All of the 2020 calves were present and accounted for and looking VERY healthy.
Image by Blair Ranford
Two big adult males were evidently absent for the entire season, Mako and Urkel. Chalky appeared to be a lone ranger for a significant amount of time. He would be there for kills but then evidently alone during periods of rest or when calves were being taught new skills. Unlike Digby who was always in close proximity to his family! Digby is coming into his prime years, much younger than Chalky, took on the big brother role and kept close to the smallest calves in his pod. He also wasn’t afraid of our boat, quite often coming up behind us and sitting in our wake. Interactions with El Notcho and Cookies pod were relatively scarce as they left the area for the second half of the season. Split Tip and her close family including Noosa and Wonks were in the area the entire season and left us on a high by bringing the new neonate and its mother Kirra, in close for an interaction. It is without a doubt that the orcas are familiar with our vessel and how we operate around them. Since boats are prevalent in the orcas homes, the ocean, its important for the youngsters to learn how to behave because one wrong move could mean death! Being a big slow boat, we must be a good training session for them.
Image by Pia Markovic
Warm water brought unusual sightings!
The water was THREE degrees warmer here in the Bremer Canyon for the months of February and March, this is due to the La Nina event the entire continent experienced. The warm water current brought tropical species like turtles and giant manta rays to our temperate waters. It may also be the reason we witnessed a scattering of lone Humpbacks out of their normal migration period! Oh and who could forget… the TINY blue whale calf. Merely DAYS old, the dark smooth bodied whale was dwarfed by its big blue mother. The first sighting of its kind in Western Australian waters. A significant event for science and a moment we will never forget!
The last rare encounter being a FIN WHALE! The gorgeous silky smooth, white chinned, friendly, mammoth of a whale. Right there in our hotspot. Only the second time in the history of our expeditions out here. A healthy and boisterous whale just enjoying a life in the southern ocean!
Image by Jamie Anderson. Blue Whale Mother and Calf
For the Birders:
Not only are we fascinated by the marine life under the water but also the pelagic bird species that scan the skies above. This season we witnessed Barau’s Petrels a whopping SIX times! The typical Flesh Footed Shearwaters would be in the thousands! They were accompanied by Little, Hutton’s, Cory’s, Sooty, and Short-tailed Shearwaters. Our petrel species included the common Great Winged, but also included Grey faced petrels and a Grey Petrel (first record for Bremer Canyon). Long-tailed Jaegers (aka Skua’s) were also present pinching other birds snacks, and dancing across the surface is the White Faced Storm Petrels and Wilson Storm Petrels. Our regular Albys included the Black Brow’s, Shy, Indian Yellow-nosed and the largest wingspan of all, the Wandering Albatross! Other irregulars included the cutest of all (voted by me) the Sooty Albatross and the Light-mantled Sooty Albatross and the Southern Royal Albatross with its last sighting here in 2012.
Image by Keith Lightbody
Biggest thank you’s and special mentions:
A special mention to the local businesses, families and community of Bremer Bay.
The summer of 2021 proved the resilience and hard working nature of these Aussies who are the moving clogs of the town. Your continued support means everything to us and we love being apart of the community for these four months of the year. Our collaboration with the Bremer Bay Primary School saw us raise $250 through containers for change by donating our used containers from each expedition!
Image by Machi Yoshida
A particularly big thanks to the following people and businesses. To Dan, Sarah and the cafe crew at Wellstead Museum and Cafe who make our catering every single day of the season. This team are not only are raising a few little rugrats but running the cafe daily AND making us freshly baked wood fired croissants EVERY MORNING.
Image by Pia Markovic
A big shout out to Bremer Bay Break Away’s for accomodating our crew for another season. To Dave and staff at Bremer Bay Beaches Tourist Park and Cabins, Billy, Amanda, and staff at Bremer Bay Camping and Caravan Park, as well as Tozers Bush Camp, Bremer Bay Resort and Quaalup Homestead thank you and your teams for the continued support and housing of our passengers! To the girls running the Rural and Hardware store, thank you for all the last minute supplies! The team at the Community Resource Centre, General Store, and Roadhouse (Cheryl’s) thank you for your continued support over the years!
Lastly, to the entire team at the Bremer Bay Brewery, specifically Zane and family, thank you for your warm and friendly welcome! A unique, friendly and safe place for families, the community and tourists to relax after a big day exploring the region!
From photographers, videographers and marine biology interns, you all are apart of our little family and your hardwork and positive attitudes makes Naturaliste Charters the unique company that it is. Blair at Sharkyaerials, your passion ignites the flame in our hearts! Michael from Aeroture, your comedy and belly laughs ensure we never take ourselves too seriously! The interns, boy, you lot this year were amazing! It is incredible to be able to facilitate these experiences and assist in your future marine careers. The photographers. 2021 saw our old faithfuls come back to create magic, you all outdid yourselves this year. In particular Machi! The fastest orca and bird spotter on the boat, your experience and knowledge is irreplaceable.
Image by Machi Yoshida. Humpback Whale.
To Dave Riggs, without you, we would have nothing to report daily on. Your cosmic energy is what drives us to do this every single day and the tale of “how it all started” will be ingrained into the future of the Bremer Bay Orcas forever! Thank you.
Finally, to all of our passengers and those who could not make it this season, thank you for the continued support of the work we do!
Part of the Naturaliste Charters Crew.
On behalf of the entire Naturaliste Charters family, thank you for coming onboard with us and we hope to see you again next season, 2022!
Enjoy the photos with comments from each photographer below.
Cover image by Jake Wilton
TIP: The photo scroll bar below contains over 100 images from our photographers onboard. Some images contain comments. The scroll bar will automatically roll through images. If you wish to pause and read the comments just hover your mouse over the image. To continue scrolling either click the arrow or take your mouse off the image and it will roll on automatically.