In a struggle lasting several hours, as many as 70 killer whales tracked down and killed a blue whale off Australia’s southwest coast, according to a marine biologist who witnessed the “astonishing,” event. a little disturbing and really breathtaking “. .
At first, it seemed like a normal whale watching day, said Kristy Brown, marine biologist at Naturaliste Charters, a company that runs whale watching tours in Western Australia. The ship fell on two pods of killer whales in Bremer Bay Canyon, about 28 miles off the coast, who were “playing and surfing the waves,” Brown written in a blog post on March 16.
But soon people on the boat noticed that the orcas were creating non-uniform wave waves. It was strange; when orcas hunt beaked whales, for example, they tend to move in unison, creating waves breaking in one direction. “But it was different, these surges were dispersed,” Brown said. Then, around 11:30 am local time, there was “a long, violent blow [spray] that stayed in the air … it was a blue whale, estimated at 16 meters [52 feet] long, with many years to live. “
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It is not known if the prey was a juvenile blue whale (Balaenoptera musculus) or a pygmy blue whale (Balaenoptera musculus brevicauda) because “they both use these waters,” Brown told Live Science in an email. Either way, the Blue Beast made a big mistake when she ventured into the canyon system on her own, where orcs swim.
Despite their name, orcas (Orcinus orca), also known as 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 manner of prey, including Humpback whales, sealed, sea turtles and even great white sharks.
In this case, even though the blue whale was almost twice the length of the larger orca, which can reach lengths of around 31 feet (9.5m), it couldn’t get rid of its pursuers. “He was completely surrounded by orc[s] while he was swimming, ”Brown wrote in the blog. Additionally, the orcas did not seem to rush the hunt, but were rather “strategic, thoughtful, collaborative, patient. [and] persevering, ”Brown wrote in the blog.
In cyclical waves, “several orcas were on top of the animal, jostling with it and swimming swiftly, alongside and below, while others fell from the chase to rest in our wake and sail along and next to the hunt, easily 200 m [656 feet] “, did she say. It seemed like “tiring blue was their goal,” she noted.
Meanwhile, more and more orcas kept coming in, and soon there were “at least six big bucks for different pods,” Brown said. Each capsule houses between six and 12 killer whales, which shows the scale of the number of killer whales involved in this hunt, she said. Even the killer whales, who were still yellow and red – the colors that are probably coming from their blood vessels that had not yet been covered in thick grease – “were there, in close formation,” Brown said.
As a large group, the orcas drove the blue whale from the Bremer Canyon system from about 3,280 feet (1,000 m) deep to the shallower continental shelf, which is only about 262 feet (80 m) deep. depth. Brown heard “the tail breaches and slaps above, and a chaos of clicks and sounds from below as the orcas pushed the blue forward.”
Unlike the baleen blue whale, orcas have teeth, a weapon they used to nibble on this blue whale’s jaw. “As the whale spun and spun, the orcas hung on – they wanted its tongue,” Brown said. “[They] waited for the jaw to come free, but it wouldn’t. “
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The blue whale fought to the end. “He wouldn’t give up, he sank, and for a moment we thought it was all over, over and over again his tail would lift, thick and silvery in the dark ocean, surrounded by black thundering fins,” Brown m ‘said.
Just before 3 p.m. local time, after hours of this “feverish and chaotic” hunt, the blue whale succumbed to its attackers, Brown said. “A blood bubble rose to the surface like a bursting red balloon,” she recalls. After that, the orcas split “the carcass because it was shared with everyone involved in the depths below,” Brown said. “We saw fat, a single piece of flesh, and it was gone.”
A hammerhead shark and pilot whales (another species of oceanic dolphin) attempted to grab some of the whale meat, but the orcas fiercely guarded their prey. On the boat, “some customers [were] in tears, a stunned silence, some excited and puzzled, ”Brown said.
This is the third time Naturaliste Charters has recorded orcas slaughtering a blue whale, Brown told Live Science in an email. “The two were in April 2019 and were two weeks apart,” she said. In 2020, “our season last year was cut short due to COVID-19, so we were not at sea when the blue whales were migrating north from Antarctic (mid-March, April, May), so it is not known if the same dynamic occurred last year. “
Originally posted on Live Science.