Whale watchers near the US-Canadian border in Washington witnessed a rare event on Thursday when a pod of orcas got into a brawl with two humpback whales. Members of the Eagle Wing Tours crew spotted the event as it happened in the Juan de Fuca Strait. The strait is about 25 miles west of Victoria, British Columbia, and Port Angeles, Washington. They stated that the whales were “being unusually active at the surface” of the water.
The Pacific Whale Watch Association also witnessed the interesting event and released a video of the incident. The orca pod consisted of about 15 transient orcas known as Bigg’s orcas. At first, it only seemed like a group of active orcas. But, the captain of BC Whale Tours spotted the pair of humpbacks as well.
According to a statement from the Pacific Whale Watch Association, researchers and observers showed up all throughout the day, starting at around 11 am, to witness the strange behavior. They recorded “an astonishing three hours of breaching, tail-slapping, and loud vocalizations.” After all of that commotion, “all of the whales disappeared into the fog, keeping the final outcome of the melee a mystery,” the statement read.
Orcas and Humpback Whales Extremely Active at Surface in Rare Encounter
“I’m still trying to wrap my head around it because it was absolutely unbelievable,” said captain and naturalist for Vancouver Island’s Sooke Coastal Explorations Mollie Naccarato. “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.”
Were the orcas hunting the humpbacks? Were they all playing together like rowdy schoolchildren? The cause of this unusual activity is more or less unknown, but researchers have theories. Orcas eat marine mammals like seals, sea lions, and dolphins. Sometimes they even go after humpback whales, although that’s a big job. So, it makes sense that maybe the orcas were hunting.
Though, observers from the Pacific Whale Watch Association noted that they recognized the two humpbacks. Nicknamed Reaper and Hydra, they are actually part of a larger group. Reaper is at least 4 years old and is mostly seen around Jalisco, Mexico. Hydra, on the other hand, is an adult female and is most often seen around Maui, Hawaii.
The PWWA hasn’t recorded any fatal attacks on humpback whales from orcas, but theorizes that there might be some occurrences as both the humpback and the orca populations increase. Now, naturalists want to relocate the humpback whales even before they migrate for the winter, keeping them away from the orca pod. Since orcas don’t migrate, they will likely stay in the area and could pose a threat to the two humpbacks.