Killer Whales
Perhaps the most powerful and spectacular predator on earth, Killer whales are found in all the world’s oceans and have no natural enemies.
Large adults weigh up to 10 tons and are capable of speeds of 35mph... fast enough to barefoot waterski behind!
Killers are members of Delphinidae and are really the largest of the dolphin family.
With their size, speed, power and organisation, they can take on virtually any creature in the sea, from the mightiest Blue whale, to great white sharks, rays, seals, squid, sea birds, penguins, turtles or even tiny herring.
Orcas have brains between 4 to 6 times the size of a human brain and have astonishing sonar capabilities. The sonar works effectively as an acoustic form of x-ray vision. The strongest sonar echoes come from items such as air cavities and skeletal systems, allowing orcas to acoustically “see” inside the bodies of other living organisms.

Zoologist Dr John Ford of Vancouver aquarium reports Orcas enjoy looking at books, particularly ones which contain pictures of killer whales. They will study the pictures through the window of the aquarium and then whistle when they wish the page turned.
Killer whales can grow to around 30ft in length, with females being usually smaller than males. Old Tom, a male was 22ft long, shorter than female orcas in some parts of the world.
Both males and females have striking black and white markings. These seem to have the function of distractive camouflage, making a fleeing prey aware it is being chased, but unsure which way the orca is heading. The markings make the outline and orientation of the orca unclear and the best escape route uncertain. There may also be an element of sexual selection in the evolution of orca markings and other body features.

Orcas are one of the few animal species to have distinct cultures. Hunting strategies of one orca community are usually unique to that community. Their cultural behaviours are learned behaviours and not instinctive behaviour. When an individual innovates a new behaviour, others will copy and youngsters will be taught by adults. In the case of the seal hunting orcas of Argentina, orcas practice beaching and rescuing themselves, and pass the skills on to their offspring in preparation for catching seal pups on the beaches of seal colonies.

Orcas are also one of the few species such as bottlenose dolphins that are known to be self aware, and able to recognise themselves in mirrors. They are also conscious breathers, meaning that they cannot be given a general anaesthetic. They must consciously think to breathe in and out, unlike in humans where we usually breathe without consciously thinking about it.

Male Orcas have tall distinctive dorsal fins often around 6ft high. The differences between dorsal fins and body markings allow different individuals to be distinguished by experienced observers. This principle was first identified by the Eden whalers who with their years of daily observation came to recognise different killers by sight.
Most of the Eden killers were given names although the names of only around 20 killers have been documented.

The indiginous Yuin people of the region called the Killers “Beowas”, meaning brothers or kin.
They believed that the killers were the embodiment of the returned spirits of their ancestors. When a valued member of the tribe passed away, he would “jump up” and return in killer whale form.
The killers were treasured as sacred members of the tribe and it was believed that they would help to provide food for the tribe and protect tribal members in the water.
To the Davidsons, the killers were also family. In 1902 George Davidson petitioned the N.S.W. government to have the killers classified as a protected species.
Old Tom
Named killers known to date:
Old Tom, Hookey, Humpy, Jackson, Cooper, Charlie, Typee, Stranger, Kinscher, Montague, Old Ben, Young Ben, Sharkey, Jimmy, Jimmy Albert, Brierley, Youngster, Walker, Skinner, Big Jack, Little Jack

In the early years of Eden whaling in the 1840s there were reportedly around 50 killers spread through 3 main pods. All three pods cooperated together. One pod stationed far out to sea would drive whales in towards the coast, another pod would attack the whale and another pod would be stationed ahead of the whale in case it broke loose.
The killers would surround the whales to cut off any escape route, some swimming under the head to prevent it diving and others would throw themselves on top of the blowhole to prevent it breathing.

In the Davidson period, a smaller pod of 2 or 3 individuals would leave the main action and swim to the mouth of the Kiah river deep within twofold bay and alert the whalers by floptailing at the river mouth, then lead the rowboats out to sea.
This behaviour was recorded on movie film by C.E.Wellings in 1910.
If the killers had somehow missed a whale that the humans had spotted, the Davidsons would hit the water surface with their oars to alert the killers.
Jackson and Minke at north end of Aslings Beach. 1900
Photo by Vogt from Mary Mitchel’s collection.
The story of Jackson/Typee had appeared only in oral history and written accounts  for 98 years untill the Author discovered this image in Mary’s collection in 1998.
Again photographs support the accuracy of the oral history.
A killer’s “murder”
In 1900 the killer pack numbered about 15  to 20 orcas. That year a killer known as Jackson beached himself on Aslings beach whilst chasing a minke whale. A vagrant named Harry Silkes knifed both whales to death before the Davidsons could intervene and Silkes had to be escorted out of town by police. Immediately afterwards the rest of the killer pack left Twofold bay for the rest of the season. The following year, the killers’ number had dropped from around 15 to 6 and many of the yuin tribe left Eden and moved to new areas.
George Davidson began legal action to have the killers protected by law.
The original postcard photographs by Vogt have C.E. Wellings’ handwritten note on the back that the killer is Typee (rather than Jackson).

The sudden disappearance of at least half the killer pack in the space of a year led to speculation of the orcas disgust with humans due to Jackson/Typee’s killing, and recently Danielle Clode suggested sudden decline due to food shortage caused by foreign offshore Antarctic whaling.
However George and Archer Davidson spoke with visiting Norwegian whalers around that time who proudly boasted of indiscriminate shooting of orcas in Australian waters. The Norwegians were worried that orcas would eat all of a captured whale and leave nothing to process. This had been known to be false by the Eden whalers for over half a century. This strongly motivated George to have the orcas protected by Law in 1902.
The Eden killers eventually dwindled from 6 in 1901 to 3 in the late 1920s and eventually only Tom who died in September 1930.
Other orcas who were recognisable to the whalers such as Ben and young Ben made fleeting visits to the Bay after this time and even visited the kiah river mouth but did not resume cooperation with the whalers who had virtually abandoned whaling by this point.. This may suggest that a number of the original Eden pod had moved offshore from 1900 and changed their hunting stategies . The orcas who now occasionally visit Eden today may be decendants of this group.