Text: Tatyana Ivkovich
On the 10th of August 2010, we found a large dispersed group of orcas in front of Russkaja bay (the southern part of Avacha Gulf, on the southeast Kamchatka peninsula). First, we encountered a tight resting group called Carmen’s family. We know this family unit very well – it consists of three very graceful females (Carmen, Paloma and their mother AV023) and one juvenile (AV023a).
Killer whales from Carmen family
Besides them we were also very happy to see Moloko’s family. We hadn’t met them for two seasons. It was great to learn that Moloko’s daughter had grown up into a mature female and given birth to a calf.
Killer whales from Moloko family (Moloko is in the center)
We also met three orcas that we couldn’t recognize. They made up a very tight group and didn’t let us approach them. This was the type of behaviour common for visiting — we call them ‘strange’ — killer whales that come to Avacha Gulf only rarely. Anyway we managed to take some photos. The whales were moving slowly out to the open ocean — we were losing sight of land — and soon we had to leave them. Back at the camp, fish dinner on the fire and looking more closely at the photos, we discovered that these three orcas were from the well-known unit of Drkin’s friends. There were two females (AV043 and AV046), a young male (AV044) and one juvenile whale (AV045) in the family. They were always rather shy but previously they had let us approach much closer.
Female AV043 is on the left
The next day we were lucky to have calm seas and high clouds, and once we were out on the water, we met a large killer whale aggregation. This group included orca family units from the previous day. Killer whales were traveling slowly from south to north all along the shore, spouting, slicing the water with their sharp fins, socializing and occasionally feeding, diving down to check for food.
Then, in the middle of this big group, we noticed Drkin’s friends. The same very tight family that we had seen the day before, was moving in a similar manner as they had done the day before. But something was different; something had changed since the past night. Female AV043 had given life to a new killer whale. The newborn orca was surfacing in very tight contact with its mother, nudging her repeatedly and hiding between the bodies of the two big females, the other female perhaps her auntie. This was the first time we knew the exact day of an orca birth. Orcas have a very high level of calf mortality – more than 50% are lost before they reach age of five. We hope that this newborn orca will survive and live its life free and wild in the waters of the Russian Far East.
The newborn calf between two females - only the tip of the dorsal fin is visible
The newborn calf near his mother
The new birth provides good evidence of Avacha Gulf’s importance to our Russian Kamchatka orca population. Orcas use Avacha Gulf not only for feeding, resting and socializing — but also for giving a birth.