In a fight of hours, up to 70 orcas hunted and killed a blue whale off the southwestern coast of Australia, according to a marine biologist who saw the event “astonishing, a little disturbing and truly mind-blowing.” .
At first, it seemed like a normal whale-watching day, said Kristy Brown, a marine biologist at Naturaliste Charters, a company that runs whale-watching tours in Western Australia. The ship ran into two pods of killer whales in Bremer Bay Canyon, about 28 miles (45 kilometers) offshore, who “played and surfed the waves,” Brown wrote in a blog post on March 16.
But soon, the people on the ship noticed that the killer whales were creating non-uniform waves. This was strange; When killer whales hunt beaked whales, for example, they tend to move in unison, creating waves in one direction. “But this was different, these waves dispersed,” Brown said. Then, around 11:30 a.m. local time, “a long, high bang [spray] that stayed in the air … It was a blue whale, estimated at 16 meters [52 feet] long, with many years of life “.
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It is unclear if the prey was a juvenile blue whale (Balaenoptera musculus) or a pygmy blue whale (Balaenoptera musculus brevicauda), as “they both use these waters,” Brown told Live Science in an email. Regardless, the blue beast made a huge mistake when it ventured into the canyon system alone, where orcas swim.
Despite their name, orcas (Orcinus orca), which are also called killer whales, are not whales. Rather, they are the largest species of the dolphin family, according to the Ocean Conservancy. And, as their name “killer” suggests, these marine mammals are known to hunt all kinds of prey, including Humpback whales, seals, sea turtles and even great white sharks.
In this case, even though the blue whale was almost twice the length of the largest killer whale, which can grow to a length of about 31 feet (9.5 m), it was unable to get rid of its pursuers. “I was completely surrounded by killer whales[s] while swimming, “Brown wrote on the blog. Also, the killer whales did not seem to rush in the hunt, but were” strategic, thoughtful, collaborative, patient [and] persistent, “Brown wrote on the blog.
In cyclical waves, “multiple killer whales were on top of the animal, jostling with it and swimming fast, beside and under it, while others abandoned the chase to rest in our wake and sail along and alongside the hunt, easily 200 m. [656 feet] “Go back,” he said. It seemed that “getting tired out of nowhere was his goal,” he said.
Meanwhile, more orcas kept arriving, and soon there were “at least six large males for different pods,” Brown said. Each pod is home to between six and 12 killer whales, so this showed the scale of how many killer whales participated in this hunt, he said. Even the killer whales, which were still yellow and red … colors that probably come from your blood vessels they have not yet been covered in thick grease: “They were there, up close, learning,” Brown said.
As a large group, the orcas expelled the blue whale from the roughly 3,280 feet (1,000 m) deep Bremer Canyon system onto the shallower continental shelf, which is only about 262 feet (80 m) deep. Brown heard “the gaps and the tail thumps above, and a chaos of clicks and sounds from below as the killer whales pushed the blue forward.”
Unlike the bearded blue whale, orcas have teeth, a weapon they used to bite into the jaw of this blue whale. “As the whale turned and turned, the killer whales held on, they wanted their tongue,” Brown said. “[They] they were waiting for the jaw to release, but it didn’t. “
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The blue whale fought to the end. “It did not give up, it sank, and for a moment we thought it was all over, again and again its tail rose, thick and silver in the dark ocean, surrounded by thunderous black fins”, Brown. saying.
Just before 3 pm local time, after hours of this “feverish and chaotic” hunt, the blue whale succumbed to its attackers, Brown said. “A bubble of blood rose to the surface like a bursting red balloon,” he recalled. After that, the orcas divided “the carcass as it was shared with everyone involved in the depths below,” Brown said. “We saw some fat, just a piece of meat, and it was gone.”
A hammerhead shark and long-finned pilot whales (another species of oceanic dolphin) tried to grab some of the whale meat, but the orcas fiercely protected their prey. On the ship, “some customers [were] through tears, some in stunned silence, some excited and intrigued, “said Brown.
This is the third time that Naturaliste Charters has recorded orcas shooting down a blue whale, Brown told Live Science in an email. “They were both in April 2019 and they were separated for two weeks,” he said. In 2020, “our season last year was interrupted due to COVID-19, so we were not at sea at the time the blue whales were migrating north from Antarctica (mid-March, April, May), so we don’t know if the same dynamic occurred last year. “
Originally posted on Live Science.