Hunting Orcas

Hunting orcas in a tight formation just outside of Moss Landing. Photo: Sack, 06-10-2013.

Today was about as good as it gets for weather. Glassy ocean conditions, no wind and no swell. Tee-shirts and shorts. What a delight. Then on top of that we had one of the best orca encounters all year.

A young orca breaks the surface after a successful hunt. Photo: Sack, 06-10-2013.

A young orca breaks the surface after a successful hunt. Photo: Sack, 06-10-2013.

We started out heading for where we saw humpbacks yesterday. But by the time we got  on them, they were about 14 miles out. But we did have some very nice looks.

Orcas on the prowl in tight formation. Photo: Sack, 06-10-2013.

Orcas on the prowl in tight formation. Photo: Sack, 06-10-2013.

Not long after we got on them, we heard reports of orcas to the south. The problem was that they were about 10 miles away. But they were moving north toward our location so there was hope. It was a hard call because we had just driven for about an hour and a half to get on these two humpbacks. We decided to spend another 10-15 minutes with the humpbacks before setting out on our orca quest.

A curious orca comes over to check us out just before going under the boat. Photo: Sack, 06-10-2013.

A curious orca comes over to check us out just before going under the boat. Photo: Sack, 06-10-2013.

The good news is that we had scattered Risso’s dolphins and scattered Pacific white-sided dolphins. We were coming across them almost the whole way. We also came across a couple of more humpbacks as we raced toward the position of the orcas.

Another drive-by orca checks us out. Photo: Sack, 06-10-2013.

Another drive-by orca checks us out. Photo: Sack, 06-10-2013.

We weren’t sure what they were hunting. But they killed something. We believe it could have been an elephant seal. Because usually when they get a sea lion or harbor seal, we’ll see the unlucky animal at the surface trying to escape. But because elephant seals spend most of their time deep underwater, that’s usually where they get attacked. And then there was the unmistakable smell of blubber in the air.

Orcas coming toward the boat. Photo: Jon McCormack, 06-10-2013.

Orcas coming toward the boat. Photo: Jon McCormack, 06-10-2013.

When they finally made the kill, things got a little easier as they stopped moving all over the place. It was a challenge at first. They were moving around fast. Almost too fast for us to even keep up. They would do these half mile zig zags at 10-12 knots. We ended up spending the rest of the trip watching them feed just below the water. They also went under the boat a couple of times as they did a drive by to check us out.

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