It’s a strange marine phenomenon: humpback whales actively defend other marine mammals like seals and grey whales from orca attacks, according to a new study.
But while some people might call it a rare example of interspecies altruism, the study also found that these attacks are likely a survival behaviour due to orcas’ tendency to feed on humpback calves.
Robert Pitman, a marine ecologist in the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Southwest Fisheries Science Center in southern California, is the lead author of the study recently published in the Marine Mammal Science journal.
He told The Early Edition he first became intrigued about the phenomenon during a research trip to Antarctica.
“One day, we saw a killer whale chasing a seal. [The seal] started swimming out towards where a humpback was at the surface, and the humpback rolled over, and lifted the seal up on its chest,” he said.
From Miyoko Sakashita, Oceans Director, Center for Biological Diversity (posted in the Huffington Post):
Whales, dolphins and other marine mammals in the Pacific just caught a huge break: A federal judge this week invalidated a plan allowing the U.S. Navy to conduct dangerous and disruptive war games that the government admitted would cause about 9.6 million instances of harm to marine mammals over five years.
These military exercises, which sometimes use explosives and ultra-loud sonar blasts, exact an ugly toll: Scientists have linked these kinds of activities to mass whale strandings, exploded eardrums and even death.
California blue whales, the largest animals on Earth once driven to near extinction by whaling, have made a remarkable comeback to near historic, 19th-century levels, according to a University of Washington study released on Friday.
The recovery makes California blue whales – which study authors say now number about 2,200, or 97 percent of historical levels – the only population of blue whales known to have recovered from whaling.
“The recovery of California blue whales from whaling demonstrates the ability of blue whale populations to rebuild under careful management and conservation measures,” said Cole Monnahan, a University of Washington doctoral student and lead author of the study.
There’s a new killer whale calf in the Salish Sea….
Looks like the welcome news is…the baby looks healthy! The numbers of the Southern Resident Killers Whales (SRKW) have dropped to around 78 (they were in the high nineties around twenty years ago), and have been assigned to the US Endangered Species list.
This past week, several whale watch operators (I think Jim Maya was the first) reported an apparent calf – see the peach-coloured spot in the picture? That’s customary for newborns.
The new orca’s mom is from L pod – L86 – and has been given the number L120. It’s L86’s second calf, which is good, as the first calf often is the weakest of the kids any given killer whale mother produces. That wasn’t the case with L86’s first calf – hers died because of human activity.
It’s the time of year when the salmon are around, so the Southern Resident killer whales come to San Juan around now & hang out for much of the summer. When they came yesterday, a number of local wildlife photographers headed to the west side of the island and captured some pictures to share… here’s what Katie Jones (her amazing photography is on her Spyhopper Travels website, here) had to say about the day:
I quite simply haven’t the words to describe today.
Easily one of my best shore encounters ever with J pod and… L pod! That’s right! Those little sneakers popped into the islands last night.
Our day started bright and early…only it wasn’t so bright this morning. Lots of fog, mist, and wind. After sitting on the west side of the island for three hours with nothing materializing, it was time to go to town and grab breakfast. Midway through the meal we get the report: lots and LOTS of orcas at Eagle Point northbound which then ensued the unhealthy shoving down of food and running for the door (we did remember to pay ).
Upon reaching the west side at Land Bank we saw J2 Granny, J19 Shachi, J41 Eclipse, and J26 Mike meandering up the coastline. They looked as if they might come close into shore which then caused us to go huffing and puffing quickly up the hill to drive down to Lime Kiln Lighthouse. While scrambling down onto the rocks at the light, Granny came by with the other three, but instead of continuing north, they turned and went back south. OH NO!
We made the wrong decision to leave Land Bank which turned quickly into regret and shaming ourselves for not being patient. BUT! That’s when things began to change. As we looked to the south, we began to see more and more and MORE orcas rounding Edwards Point. They were in very tight, playful groups and they were so close to shore! Oh…if only they keep coming this way… And did they ever!
They came in close at the lighthouse. They were practically at our feet as they socialized and frolicked in the silvery afternoon sun, adrenaline pounding through our systems like a happy wrecking ball, squeals of exuberance unable to be contained…
Long story short, it was a very good day.
For more photos of the orcas (and more, way more!) around San Juan Island and the Salish Sea, check out these wildlife & outdoors photographers: