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Over the years, I have experienced many wildlife encounters.  Whether it was observing elephants in Namibia, caiman in Peru, horses in Iceland, turtles in Greece, or penguins in South Africa.  Or more recently, swimming with whale sharks in Western Australia or gazing at hummingbirds in Ecuador.  Truly, all experiences were captivating.  But, the most mesmerizing experience was watching a pod of orcas attack a blue whale off the coast of Western Australia.

It was all by chance.  In essence, our small group was scheduled for a typical day-long whale watching trip in Bremer Bay, Western Australia.  Naturaliste Charters, whose staff consists of marine biologists and students interested in ecology, explained that they had seen orcas in the last few days and had felt confident that we would have some good photos.

Spotting the Orca Whales

After about one hour of boating and spotting a few orcas, people were excited with their photos.  Then, everything changed.  The crew noticed that there was a pod of six orca whales speeding ahead toward what appeared to be an oil slick (created when another whale has been hurt).  The pod was being led by a female orca whom the crew had been studying over the last months and knew well.

Instinctively, the crew followed her.  Right away, the drone camera was sent up ahead to capture what was going on and they were shocked to see that it was a blue whale that the pod was after.  In fact, this was the third ever sighting in the world of orca whales attacking a blue whale.  

Circle of Life

In the ensuing forty-five minutes, we witnessed the remarkable strength of the blue whale.  A blue whale that was longer than our boat and who fought hard as the orcas attacked it by ripping off chunks of its flesh.  The lead female orca slapped her tail as though she was sending a message out (a la Twitter style) to everything nearby to come quickly.

It was a brutal and bloody attack.  Although I was suffering from seasickness, I could not turn away.  The whole ocean seemed to show up for this whether to help or to devour the spoils. 

Then, the blue whale perhaps in a last attempt to escape turned toward our boat.  Suddenly, this was a dangerous situation because had the blue whale gotten closer to the boat, the circle of orcas, sharks, birds, and pilot whales would have surrounded the boat as well.  Quickly, the crew retreated from the situation as there was nothing else to do but witness the circle-of-life.  Finally, the female orca charged to eat the tongue of the blue whale as it is the most nutritious part of the body. 

Why Did This Attack Occur?

Needless to say, we were all stunned.  By and large, we aren’t sure why the orcas attacked the blue whale as it’s very unusual.  Usually, orcas feed on sea birds, squid, octopuses, sea turtles, seals, sharks, rays, and fish.  The only marine mammals they don’t eat are river dolphins and manatees, according to the IUCN. 

Is this a new phenomenon due to climate change?  Has this behavior always occurred but only witnessed as whale watching excursions become more popular?  Thankfully, the company plans to publish its findings with universities and share these videos with the press.

In the meantime, if you want to experience whale watching in Western Australia, check out Naturaliste Charters or contact us for additional package options.

 


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Orcas Attack Blue Whale

== WARNING: GRAPHIC IMAGES ==

Orcas Attack Blue Whale_3

(c) Dave Riggs, Naturaliste Charters

Orcas Attack Blue Whale

(c) John Daw, Australian Wildlife Adventures

Orcas Attack Blue Whale_2

(c) John Daw, Australian Wildlife Adventures

Orca Attack Blue Whale

(c) John Daw, Australian Wildlife Adventures

Our tour was provided by Naturaliste Charters, but my comments are my own. Contact us if you would like to make a vacation out of this experience.

 

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