Killer whale pod attacks grey whale
Whale— Whale watchers in Puget Sound caught a rare and dramatic sight from their tourist boat: a pod of orcas speeding by in attack mode and then ramming a grey whale under water. After the grey whale dove beneath the water Sunday, the pod of attacking transient killer whales followed suit. “Everything was quiet for a minute,” said Monte Hughes, captain of the Anacortes-based Mystic Sea Charters. “Then the water went into a frenzy. … You could see the movements of the grey whale being hit underneath the water.” A short time later the grey whale surfaced, belly up, and jerked upward two or three times as it was being hit from below, he said. The killer whales then took off, and the grey whale floundered for a time, but eventually swam toward shallow waters. Howard Garrett, director of the Orca Network, said there have been three other reports of transient orcas attacking grey whales in Puget Sound. The first sighting was March 22. Garrett said the grey whale was spotted Monday swimming with other grey whales and appeared to be OK. The whale, a male named “Patch,” has frequented the Puget Sound for the past 19 years, he said. Transient orcas are different from the three pods of endangered Puget Sound orcas that feed on salmon. These whales typically eat marine mammals such as sea lions, porpoises, dolphins and grey whales. Robin Baird, a marine biologist with the Olympia, Washington-based Cascadia Research Collective, said it’s not unusual for transients to attack grey whales but most of the attacks have occurred in California or Alaska, in areas where the greys are particularly vulnerable. “I have not heard of them attacking greys in Puget Sound before,” Baird said in an email from Hawaii, where he was doing field work. Whale observers said they’re not sure why the attacks happened. “It doesn’t fit the usual textbook wildlife behaviour,” Garrett said. “They usually pass by each other and pay no mind.” Hughes said he hasn’t seen anything like the attack during his 20 years operating whale-watching tours. Noela Graham, a Whidbey Island resident, watched the attack with about 30 other passengers aboard the Mystic Sea and recalled it being “extraordinary to witness something that you see on a National Geographic Channel.” After the first group of seven orcas attacked the grey whale and left, another pair of orcas approached the grey whale. Hughes said he positioned the boat near the grey whale to deter another attack. “I think we were able to deter that hopefully,” he said, noting that the whale got its breath and very slowly started heading for the beach.