In short: 

A pod of killer whales, including well-documented Split Fin, has been sighted near Eden, NSW.

Split Fin was first spotted back in 2003 and is considered the matriarch of the pod.

What’s next?

The pod is expected to head back south to Victoria in coming days.

Some well-known killer whales have made a welcome return the NSW far south coast, exciting experts and residents.

The pod was this week spotted near Green Cape, about 70 kilometres south of Merimbula, where it was seen at a similar time last year.

Jess Millar was the skipper on board the Sapphire Coastal Adventures whale charter when the orcas surfaced.

“We were all on a high, thinking ‘wow, what an amazing experience’,” she said.

“It’s always great to re-sight the same whales, and it was lovely to see a new calf this year.”

Split Fin is considered the matriarch of the pod sighted off the coast of Green Cape on Tuesday.(Supplied: Peter Harris)

The pod was first sighted off the coast of Eden back in 2003, although the size of the group has changed over time from as many as 14 to as few as three.

Dolphin Institute research officer David Donnelly, who is also coordinator at Killer Whales Australia, said the pod was in a “medium range migration”.

“It’s not the same sort of migration you would apply to a humpback whale, which is fairly direct north-to-south,” he said.

“They’re a bit more of an unpredictable wanderer.

“This group travel as far north as Jervis Bay and as far south as Hobart and as far west as Robe in South Australia.”

Famous orcas

Orcas, which are part of the dolphin family, possess a celebrity status in the nearby town of Eden, where Old Tom the killer whale and his pod famously worked alongside whalers to hunt baleen whales early last century.

Old Tom’s skeleton is a centre piece at the Eden Killer Whale Museum, and the region’s Beowa National Park, which means orca in the traditional Thaua language, and ‘The Eden Whalers’ sport team each make reference to the species.

The orca pod that has been making appearances in recent years is quite well known due to its matriarch Split Fin, with a distinctive dorsal fin that was likely damaged by a propeller.

Split Fin is highly recognisable due to her damaged dorsal fin.(Supplied: David Rogers Photography)

She was sighted on Tuesday with adult male Bent Tip and has often been accompanied by Square Notch and Mid Notch. 

Researchers named the family Group EA 0001.

A pod of orcas were sighted off Green Cape on Tuesday.(Supplied: Peter Harris)

Ros Butt spent 30 years operating a whale watching charter out of Eden. 

She said she remembered her first sighing of Split Fin 21 years ago like it was yesterday.

“We had a pod of five killer whales that we picked up north of Eden and they did a loop right into Twofold Bay,” she said.

“It is very rare to see them … it covers quite a wide territory so just to encounter them here is really exciting.”

Prior to their sighting this week at Green Cape, the pod was also seen a few days earlier near Lake Tyers in Victoria.

Experts expected the orcas would continue to head south, hunting seals along the way, and may be seen in Victorian waters around Wilsons Promontory and Phillip Island in the first two weeks of July. 

Get snapping

Mr Donnelly said sighting an orca was considered to be quite special and a “regular but uncommon occurrence”.

“It’s really tricky to see them, so I can understand why people are so excited,” he said.

“Split Fin I guess is our poster girl … she’s highly recognisable.

“For the last five or so years, we’re getting people ringing up and sending emails saying, ‘I saw Bent Tip today and here’s my photo. I’ve done the matching for you’.”

The pod of orcas were sighted off the coast of Green Cape, south of Eden. (Supplied: David Rogers Photography)

He gave credit to those on board the whale charter for capturing the images of the pod as a means to help experts collect more information on the species.

“The citizen scientists play the key role; we are merely custodians or curators of this data,” Mr Donnelly said.

“We’re trying to tell the story of killer whales in Australia through the eyes of people walking their dogs, pulling fishing lines and jumping on tour boats.”

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