An evening with Chris Fallows and the orcas of False Bay

Posted on 19 July 2013

Last night, while most Capetonians were huddled around the fireplace in their lounge, I was at the One&Only at the V&A Waterfront (read: 12 things to do at the V&A Waterfront) learning interesting facts about the Orcinus orca, commonly known as the killer whale or orca. These so-called fearsome creatures of the sea were called Orca (demon from hell), by the Romans, while the Haida in North America refer to them as Skana (killer demon) and Aleutian Island folk call them Polossatik (feared one). Quite formidable stuff for a member of the dolphin family!

Whilst I certainly wouldn’t like to be adrift in the ocean surrounded by the ‘wolves of the sea’, it turns out that humans are the last thing on an orca’s menu wish-list, much like the other feared ocean predator, the great white shark (watch: Close shave for shark divers in South Africa). In fact they are far more interested in salmon, seals and, in the case of our visit to False Bay: dolphins.

Chris Fallows of Apex Shark Expeditions (and those well-known shark breaching photographs) was last night’s speaker at the One&Only Winter Talks. He spent over an hour telling an enraptured audience about his experiences around the world with orcas, including the surprise arrival of an orca pod in our very own False Bay in April 2009. Along with some incredible photography and interesting video footage of their hunting techniques, it made me realise just how clever these mammals are. I also learnt that they have the second-largest brain of any animal on earth, so it’s not really surprising.

From the salmon-scoffing orcas in the Farrelon Islands to the expert seal-hunting beach-breachers of Patagonia and the dolphin-bashers of False Bay, Chris enlightened us about orca behavior, their cunning hunting strategies (check out this video of a terrified seal being swept off an ice floe by giant waves created by an orca pod).  It’s not hard to see why False Bay is right up there with Kruger National Park.

False Bay’s Big Five

False Bay is home Cape fur seals, great white sharks, African penguins, common dolphins, Southern Right whales and more recently, orcas. We have the Big Five of the ocean right here on our doorstep! What was interesting for me was finding out that orcas around the world have very specific prey that they specialise in and it turns out that common dolphins are the meal of choice for the orcas who visit us here. The dolphins are chased until those that are sick or weak tire and fall behind, or the orcas simply kamikaze them from above at a speed of 50 kilometres an hour. Chris has seen these orcas in action and described following them in the chase as something akin to ‘going into battle on a chariot’. One can only imagine!

Photograph by Chris Fallows.

After the talk dinner a buffet dinner is served at Reuben’s, for which you need an appetite much like that of an orca (they eat about four per cent of their body weight each day with the average weight of an orca being around six tonnes). Thankfully you won’t find dolphin or seal on the menu, but there is fish. There is also an array of salads, meat and vegetarian dishes as well as a tempting assortment of desserts. I particularly enjoyed the courgette soup, a Thai fish curry, juicy slices of rare roast beef with vegetables and I have to admit that I tucked into every single dessert offering! I went home with some new-found knowledge about orca whales and feeling a little like one.

Orcas in False Bay, Cape Town

Orcas have been seen hunting near Glencairn and are known to pass through Fish Hoek and Kalk Bay. Chris recommends you keep your eyes on the ocean between April and May from Boyes Drive (er, not while you are driving). If you happen to be out at sea and are lucky enough to spot a pod, keep your distance and please don’t drive your boat in front of them as this interferes with their echolocation.

False Bay’s legendary Great White Sharks by Chris Fallows
23 July at One&Only Cape Town

On Tuesday, 23 July, Chris Fallows will be back at the One&Only Winter Talks showcasing the story behind and evidence of close to 1 900 documented Great White predatory breaching events at False Bay’s Seal Island. With close to 50 international documentaries having been filmed with Chris, and the sharks as the leads, an opportunity to hear and see first-hand what these fascinating feats of nature entail will be memorable indeed. A story of these amazing creatures, the personalities amongst them and just what makes this population of Great Whites so special.

R255 per person, with includes a full dinner buffet at Reuben’s after the talk.

There are a few seats left! To make a booking tel 021-431-4511 or email [email protected].

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