As soon as Captain Andrew Johnstone (better known as Captain Dundee), a Naturaliste Charters skipper with a huge smile, starts talking, you realise that you’re in for a treat. “We know around 150 of the whales we see each season personally,” he says. “After seven years in the Bremer Canyon location I’ve learnt to drive with them… and they’ve learnt to swim with me.”
Captain Dundee is referring to a phenomenon that has evolved over many years at the helm. Whereas eight years ago he had to search far and wide to find Orcas, these days they come to him most of the time. “For the past few years they’ve been greeting us. We leave them to their own devices as we observe and watch, and intriguingly they now sometimes include us as they engage in their predatory behaviour and attacks,” he says. “They drive their prey – for example Beaked Whales – right to us and pin the animals up against the vessel.”
Enjoying the view from the bridge with Captain Dundee is always a highlight! Image: Naturaliste Charters
Although finding Orcas has become easier over the years, Captain Dundee still uses a variety of tracking methods to get close to the animals. “It comes down to GPS tracking, incredible eyes, and knowing where they like to hang out,” he says. “Our deckies are great spotters, and every morning we put out the challenge for guests to participate, too. If a guest spots an Orca before a deckie, the pride in their face is amazing.”
Captain Dundee stresses that although they do see Orcas regularly and are in tune with their behavioural patterns, each day is an unknown. “Some days we observe the whales relaxing, just chilling and cruising around; other days can be sporadic and we don’t see much of them as they spend their time deep diving; then there are days when we now realise the Orcas are actively hunting,” he says. “And if we can’t see them we look for birds. Whenever we see a swirl of birds looking down, waiting for scraps from a kill, we know there might be Killer Whales.”
Guests enjoying close encounters with Orcas and pelagic birds. Image: Naturaliste Charters
Bremer Canyon Killer Whale Expedition
The Bremer Canyon has become one of the most sort after whale watching expeditions across the globe, with over 100 Killer Whales (Orcas) returning to the submarine canyon each year from January to April; the only place in Australia where you can regularly encounter Killer Whales in the wild.