Whale watchers in British Columbia recently saw a rare encounter involving a group of killer whales seemingly attacking a hunchback and a calf in the Salis Sea.
In videos taken by a local sailor on May 29 off the coast of Nanaimo on Vancouver Island, killer whales, also known as killer whales, repeatedly crashed into the water near hunchbacked pair, according to CHEK News.
Witnesses described the 30-minute encounter as an aggressive attack on 13 killer whales, which may have been aimed at the baby’s back. An observer can be heard in the footage saying, “I think they killed the calf.”
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“We hope to see the calf alive and well,” VIWW oceanographer Rodrigo Menezes told CHEK News. “But for now, [there is] a lot of speculation about it. “
Cetacean experts are also unsure whether this rare encounter was really a deadly battle or just an accidental spraying among cetaceans.
Transitional killer whales
The encounter can be considered rare, but killer whales are known for their sometimes aggressive behavior towards other marine mammals. In February, for example, a killer whale pod off the coast of Australia gathered and tried to drown a young humpback whale that escaped, At the time, Live Science reported. In March, a blue whale was less fortunate when 70 killer whales chased and killed a mammal off the coast of Australia in an hour-long battle. Live Science also reported.
The recent humpback encounter included so-called transitional killer whales – those that do not stay in the same area as the inhabiting killer whales – from three groups, T100, T123 and T46B, which range from Southeast Alaska to Central California, Mark Malson, a marine biologist at the Research Center. of whales in Washington, told Live Science.
Unlike native killer whales, which feed primarily on salmon, transitional killer whales are known to target other marine mammals and some seabirds, Maleson said.
Although transitional and resident killer whales are considered to be the same species, their different geographical distribution and diets mean that they are rarely mixed and classified as separate ecotypes or subspecies, according to the Whale Research Center.
A rare encounter
The number of humpback whales is rising in the Salis Sea after they recently returned to the area after heavy commercial whaling in the late 19th and early 20th centuries drove them away, Maleson said. The last few decades have also seen an increase in the number of transitional killer whales visiting the area, Maleson said. These population increases mean that there is “much more interaction between humpback whales and killer whales” than in the past, he added.
Any encounters between the two species are also more likely to be documented now, as there are “many more eyes in the water” due to whale watching companies such as VIWW, Maleson said.
However, although encounters are increasing, fatal interactions between killer whales and humpback whales are almost unheard of in the area.
“I’ve seen several interactions between humpback whales and killer whales over the last decade,” Maleson said. “But it’s not a fatal attack yet.”
Did the killer whales kill this hunchbacked calf? It’s certainly possible, Maleson said.
“If there are enough killer whales to separate the mother from the calf and they are resolved, that would certainly be possible,” he said. “But I’m not convinced that’s the case with Nanaimo.”
Maleson added: “Many people make false interpretations of what they see when killer whales harass large whales.” If the calf’s life was really at risk, the mother would try much harder to deter killer whales, Andrew Trits, a marine mammal researcher at the University of British Columbia, told CHEK News. “Maybe you [the orcas] they just tested the waters and saw an opportunity. “
Although killer whales hit their bodies on the water surface to stun their prey, in this case the killer whales may have only played with the calf, Trit said.
The mother and calf have not been seen in the area since the meeting, VIWW told Live Science in an email. However, “no killer whales have also been observed feeding on the carcass afterwards, which would be likely in the event that they attack and kill the calf.”
Originally published in Live Science.