Fishermen surrounded by orcas

A POD of killer whales gave two fishermen a fright when they surfaced a few metres from their boat off Brunswick Heads last week.

A giant humpback breaching 300m off their bow marked the beginning of an adventure for Aaron Royle, owner of the 10m Fishers trap-and-line boat, and his deckie, Darren Burnett.

“We had to turn in a hurry and suddenly humpbacks were all around and in front of us,” Mr Burnett said.

“Then I looked out the back of the boat and said 'Holy s***'.

“There was half-a-dozen killer whales right on our tail, looking as if they wanted us to get out of their way.”

The one nearest the boat was 6m long, with a 1.5m dorsal fin, Mr Burnett reckons, though he said he spotted an even bigger one further off.

The species' distinctive fin and white patches made them easy to identify, he said.

Mr Royle, 40, has been a commercial fisherman for eight years, and goes out 100 days a year, but he said he had never seen killer whales before, nor so many humpbacks together.

“There were 10 or 15 of them, more than I've ever come across in one group before,” he said.

The men believe the killers were 'herding' the humpback group. That view was supported by Southern Cross University marine biologist Daniel Bucher.

“The humpbacks would have had calves with them and the killer whales would be driving them on, trying to stress them out and take which- ever one fell behind,” Dr Bucher said.

The killers would be reluctant to attack such a big group of humpbacks, he said, “Although we have found plenty of adult whales with scars on their tail flukes”.

While killer whales have been seen off Cape Byron before, such a large pod was unusual.

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