A pod of killer whales cruising California’s Monterey Bay have become such effective hunters that they’ve killed four gray whale calves in just seven days in what a local biologist believes is unprecedented.
In the latest sad attack the nine orcas separated a gray whale calf from its mother and drowned it on Wednesday in front of transfixed spectators on a tour boat operated by Monterey Bay Whale Watch. The operation’s marine biologist, Nancy Black, told the San Francisco Chronicle that she wasn’t aware of a similar death tally for an orca pod in her entire 30-year career.
The death of the latest victim only took 20 minutes. Such a battle often takes hours as the mother lashes at the orcas with her flukes and attempts to protect her calf by rolling over. Black, however, said the mother and calf looked undernourished and therefore may have been weakened.
The first fatal attack in the string occurred on April 20. That one involved a huge number of 33 orcas. But a specific group of nine orcas, all members of a single four-generation family, headed by a female, were involved in all four of the killings, according to Black.
The orcas share their kills with one another. They’re opportunistic carnivores and will attack sea lions, dolphins and even great white sharks.
The orcas also attack humpback whale calves. Adult humpback whales sometimes charge orca pods, driving them off, whether or not their own calves are threatened. They appear to come to the rescue of other marine animals under orca attack in what scientists view as puzzling altruistic behavior.
Check out this dramatic example of humpback whales interrupting an orca attack here: