KOTA KINABALU: The sighting of a pod of orcas by a group of divers in Sipadan waters last Sunday was not a first, as the marine mammals have been spotted in Sabah waters several times before. This was shared by other divers following New Straits Times’ online report on the recent encounter near the world-renowned island. Downbelow Marine and Wildlife Adventures managing director Richard Swann told the NST that there had been several sightings in the past, wherein orcas were seen passing through waters off Sipadan and Layang-Layang islands. "Although I have yet to encounter them, I know others who have. They spotted a pod of orcas in Sipadan waters a few years back. "The killer whales were seen chasing dolphins, but I am not sure if (the divers) were able to document the event, because the boat… could not catch up (with the mammals)," Swann said. He added that another group of divers spotted killer whales near Layang-Layang in March last year. Swann, who is a PADI (Professional Association of Diving Instructors) Platinum course director, has been diving in Sabah for over 10 years. During his dives in the state, he has encountered whale sharks and dolphins. "I (saw) melon-headed whales (often referred to as 'blackfish' or 'false killer whales') in 2005 in Sipadan waters, but I missed the killer whales. "At that time, there could have been hundreds of dolphins... probably more than a thousand (different) species. As for melon-headed whales, it is hard to say (how many of them there were), as they seemed to be very cautious and kept their distance.
"Every now and again, there is a huge number of dolphins passing through and predators naturally follow, on occasion. "It can be breath-taking, (it’s) like some kind of marine convention, and they socialise when they come together, unless being hunted – then they are just on full speed," said Swann. Last Sunday, 32-year-old diver Faridzul Adzli Mad Adim encountered about eight orcas and took videos of them swimming and jumping out of the water. His videos, which he posted on his Facebook page, have garnered more than 8,000 views. Meanwhile, Sabah Fisheries Director Ahemad Sade said presence of killer whale in Sabah waters was not common but noted they have been spotted in waters off Semporna. "As for now we can tentatively identify it as killer whale by looking at the white spot under the dorsal fin (based on Faridzul's video). "The orcas could have used our waters as part of their migratory route since waters off Sipadan is quiet deep. "The area is also a migratory route for yellow fin and big eye tuna," he said. While it carries the name ‘whale’, this marine mammal belongs to the dolphin family and is its largest member. Although killer whales tend to inhabit cold oceans, they can be found in all of the world's major seas, from the Arctic and Antarctica, to various tropical regions located in and around the equator. They usually prey on squid, octopus, seal, sea lion, sea otter, ray, dolphin, shark, baleen whale and of course, bony fishes. Occasionally, turtles and seabirds, including penguins, are added to their diet.