Coast KZN

13 Apr 2021

Killer whales spotted off Zimbali in rare sighting

Juan Venter (North Coast Courier) Picture: File. An Orca Killer whale.

Ballito Ski Boat Club’s Peter Mitchell and his fishing buddies had no idea that they would be spoilt with a rare sighting when they went fishing off Zimbali at the weekend. While killer whales, also known as orcas, are no strangers to KwaZulu-Natal waters, with at least 17 recorded sightings since 2015, to see them is certainly uncommon. About 2 kms straight off the pools at Zimbali, Peter, along with Riaan de Jonge, Eric Bott and Dean Halley, were fishing for tuna when a large pod of dolphins hightailed it north past the fishermen, who had just landed a 15kg tuna.

“Once they had passed we moved further south, to drift back down with the wind. That’s when we saw them,” said Mitchell.

According to Mitchell, the pattern in which the killer whales were moving indicated that they appeared to have been hunting, while slowly making their way north. He said it was an awesome experience being able to be so close to the predators.

Ex- Sharks Board principal research officer, Geremy Cliff said orcas were highly mobile toothed whales, capable of moving vast distances. He had heard of an adult male orca that traveled more than 5 000kms from Peru to Mexico. In a separate case, Cliff recalls 3 elephant seals being found in the stomach of a killer whale at Durban – some 1 800kms away from the nearest colony of elephant seal.

“Orcas occur in pods, usually family groups, and are well known for hunting collectively. Off South Africa, they are seen at all depths from 0-50m to over 3 000m.”

Orcas prey on migrating baleen whales and have proved to be highly selective feeders, often taking just the tongues of the large whales.

“Recently, white sharks have been predated by killer whales. In these cases, only the livers of the sharks were removed. Historically, killer whales were hunted off Durban along with all the other whales.”

Between 1971 and 1975, 36 killer whales were landed at the Durban Whaling Station, but no other local capture statistics could be provided.

“The Soviet Antarctic expeditions took over 1 200 orcas between 1947 and 1980.

“The species is described as ‘data deficient’ in terms of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) red list, which indicates that it has recovered from the effects of whaling,” said Cliff.

While orcas are powerful predators capable of killing leopard seals and great white sharks, there have been no recorded fatal attacks on humans.