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‘Dramatic’ whales brawl off Washington coast in rare, hours-long event, video shows

Pod of whales (Rennett Stowe/WikiCommons)

A pod of 15 or so transient orcas clashed with a pair of humpback whales near the U.S.-Canada border on Thursday, Sept. 29, and whale watchers and tour groups captured the “dramatic” encounter on video.

The Pacific Whale Watch Association witnessed the feud and released a video of the rare sight, according to a news release.

Crew members working with Eagle Wing Tours noticed the orcas “being unusually active at the surface” shortly after 11 a.m. in the Juan de Fuca Strait, about 25 miles west of Victoria, British Columbia, and Port Angeles, Washington, the release said.

The captain of another tour boat, BC Whale Tours, then noticed the two humpback whales among the lively orca pod, the release said.

Observers showed up throughout the day and recorded seeing “an astonishing three hours of breaching, tail-slapping, and loud vocalizations before all of the whales disappeared into the fog, keeping the final outcome of the melee a mystery,” the release states.

“I’m still trying to wrap my head around it because it was absolutely unbelievable,” Mollie Naccarato said in the release. She is a captain and naturalist for Sooke Coastal Explorations on south Vancouver Island. “At first the orcas seemed to be chasing the humpbacks, but then when it seemed there was space between them, the humpbacks would go back toward the orcas.”

Naturalists from the whale watch association recognized some of the whales involved, according to the release. They are part of a group more often seen on the outer coast.

The humpbacks are Reaper and Hydra, the release says. Reaper is at least 4 years old and has been linked to winter breeding grounds near Jalisco, Mexico, while Hydra has been matched to breeding grounds off Maui, Hawaii. She’s an adult and has given birth to at least three calves there, the release says.

Naturalists aren’t sure if the orcas were trying to hunt the humpbacks. Known as Bigg’s orcas because of their transient nature, they eat marine mammals, such as seals, sea lions and porpoises, the release says. Sometimes they will hunt larger prey, like humpback whales.

They’re also more commonly known as killer whales. The PWWA has not recorded “any fatal orca attacks on humpback whales in the Salish Sea” — but believe they’ll see more interactions between the rivaling whales as populations of both Bigg’s orcas and humpback whales increase in the area.

Whale watchers want to move Reaper and Hydra away from the orcas before they head south for the winter, the release says. Orcas don’t migrate and will likely stay in the area year-round.


© 2022 The Charlotte Observer

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