HomeOutdoorsNewsOrca pod filmed hunting gray whale calf near Oregon coast

Orca pod filmed hunting gray whale calf near Oregon coast

by Caitlin Berard
Orca pod breaching the surface
(Photo by Michel Viard via Getty Images)

“Nature is incredible, but it is brutal. And I could see as my drone approached that the calf was no longer alive,” photographer and filmmaker Jaklyn Larsen said of her recent footage capturing an orca pod attacking and killing a gray whale calf.

Though orcas are among the most magnificent creatures on Earth, they’re every bit as vicious as they are beautiful. Not overly so, of course, but wildlife will always be wild, and what may be a heartbreaking scene for us is just another meal for a hungry predator.

The day started as a thrilling one, with Jaklyn Larsen heading to the beach in hopes of filming an orca pod heading south along the Oregon coast. The scene she encountered, however, was far more brutal than she ever expected.

A pod of 5 to 10 orcas was in the middle of a coordinated attack on a gray whale calf, the baby whale’s mother doing her best to protect it but ultimately helpless against the apex predators.

The hunt lasted a horrifying three hours, during which time the orcas separated the calf from its mother, then used ramming and biting to wear both the calf and its mother to exhaustion.

Throughout the attack, the mother whale did her best to keep her calf alive and away from the fierce cetaceans. Eventually, however, the orca pod succeeded in their quest to kill the calf, as they so often do.

“It was both beautiful and brutal, bringing both a sense of excitement and a sense of sadness,” Larsen wrote in an Instagram post.

“To see the killer whales cooperatively work to hunt as a family was incredible, but my heart ached for the mother gray whale as she so valiantly fought to try to protect her young. The calf did not survive.”

Whale calf is a common menu item for orca pods

Though they’re commonly known as killer whales, orcas aren’t whales at all but members of the dolphin family. That said, they didn’t earn the nickname for no reason.

Orcas are the ocean’s top predators. Yes, even above great white sharks. And by working together in groups, there isn’t much orcas can’t eat.

There are things they won’t eat – humans (thankfully) among them – but an orca pod can bring down anything, from the great white shark to the blue whale, the largest animal on Earth.

In fact, orcas are known to feed on every species of large whale. Typically, however, they target the calves, not the adults. Once the calf is singled out as the orca pod’s choice of dinner, there’s little hope for the baby whale.

Nothing if not persistent, orcas will spend hours (sometimes as many as six) working to separate the calf from its protective mother. Throughout the entire attack, the orca pod is in constant communication, working as one to acquire their chosen prey.

Once the whale calf is dead, the orcas will feast on its nutrient-dense tongue and lower jaw. Though their hunts can be incredibly labor intensive, orcas often leave a great deal of their large prey behind.

When an orca pod kills a shark, for instance, they eat only its liver, leaving the rest for scavengers.

This is because a shark’s liver contains a high volume of nutrients, including fats and vitamins. Brutally efficient, orcas will rip out the shark’s liver with surgical precision, leaving the rest of the carcass intact.

Again, we should all thank our lucky stars that orcas are picky eaters with no taste for humans.