AARON'S BLOG: Killers on the loose in Tofo
How many events in our lives can we count as truly unforgettable? Those magical moments we will recall to our grandchildren as we bounce them happily on our knee, deep into old age? I can probably count mine on one hand - flying over the Valley of the Kings at sunrise in a hot air balloon, scoring the winning goal in a cup final as a kid (a toe punt, but they all count), graduating from university…
I had a moment recently that may have eclipsed them all. It all started regularly enough - another sweet and sunny day in Tofo, Mozambique. The ocean had been unnervingly glassy all week; flat with the potential to explode at any moment. I was diving with operator Peri Peri and we were off to Tofo’s world famous dive site, Manta Reef. We launched effortlessly, caressing our way through the puny waves. Instantly we were surrounded by a pod of humpback dolphins in an unusually playful mood. And then devil rays, everywhere, tossing themselves out of the water like pancakes from another world. The sea was in a mischievous mood, alive with life. Customers cooed and squealed in unison, not a bad place this Tofo. Little did they know what lay ahead.
And then we saw it; the commotion in the ocean. A huge flock of birds circled above in anticipatory mood. And fins! Fins all over. Dolphins? Too big. Whale sharks? Too pointy, too black. As we got closer, we realised what we were encroaching on a pod of perhaps ten killer whales that had clearly just caught something large. Chunks of flesh floated everywhere, as the killers feasted on what had probably been a humpback calf.
Of any marine animal, orcas are the ones I’ve always said I’d be most reluctant to swim with. They are carnivorous, smart, fast and hunt in unison. Although no cases exist of them killing humans in the wild (perhaps because most people get the hell out of the water when confronted by an orca) they regularly hunt large mammals such as other whales and seals. And as we know, a snorkelling human can look rather like a delicious seal, only in my eyes a lot less agile and therefore easier to gobble right down.
I never actually thought I’d have to confront this hypothetical situation. Killer whales are seen here maybe once every couple of years, disappearing as quickly as they arrive. No one had ever been in the water with them. So would I snorkel with killer whales in a feeding frenzy? Not on your nelly.
But adrenaline does funny things to you. The desire to get in the water was overwhelming. It was very unlikely I’d ever get to see this again in my lifetime. Myself, our instructor Dave and Marine Megafauna Association researcher Helen kitted up like crazy people. We slipped quietly into the water and gingerly snorkelled our way towards the buffet. The ocean was thick with offal and flesh. We could make out large black and white objects all around us.
And then shouts from the boat: “Sharks, to your left! More, right! Lots of them!” We were being buzzed by bull sharks that had joined in the feast. They were in hunting mode, fins tucked in to their sides, darting around aggressively. They would rush towards us from the deep and were repelled by thrusting a camera, or fin towards their snout. The killer whales continued to snack all around us, uninterested by three mad people flapping around on the surface, fending off sharks. We’d seen enough. We grabbed a couple of photos and flopped back onto the boat, elated. I thought my heart was going to explode.
Bull sharks joined in the frenzy
The rest of the day and the dives were a magical blur. I seem to remember a breaching giant manta, possibly a whale shark and lots more UFO pancakes. And then as we surfaced from our final dive, the giant slap of a humpback’s tail fin, maybe 100 metres from us. Was that the heartbroken mother, off to continue her migration, without the calf she had nurtured in her belly and by her side for so long? It’s an unforgiving place, the ocean. Yet it’s capable of producing moments that will be forever etched in our memories.
To see more of Aaron's work please visit www.aarongekoski.com.
Aaron was diving with Peri Peri divers. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more information on the Marine Megafauna Foundation, please visit www.marinemegafauna.org.
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