Whale, breaching, Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary, August 20, 2007.

Week in Geek - Whale vs Whale edition

Marine biologists around the world are a bit baffled by the behavior they’ve been observing between humpback whales and killer whales (aka orcas). It seems the humpbacks are purposefully interrupting the orcas hunting sessions.

Robert Pitman, a marine ecologist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), has been looking into this since 2009 (along with others). They presented their findings in the Journal of Marine Mammal Science. What they found was that this type of interaction between humpbacks and orcas happened at least 115 times (that were observed) over the last 50+ years. In 89% of those interactions, the humpbacks were seen to disrupt orcas who were actively engaged in a hunt. And these instances didn’t seem to be prey dependent, as the humpbacks rescued a range of species: sea lions, harbor seals, and gray whales.

While some people might view this as altruistic behavior, it might be somewhat self-serving for the humpbacks:

Mature humpback whales are too large and too formidable to be hunted by orcas themselves, but their calves are vulnerable. Orcas have been witnessed hunting humpback whale calves in much the same way that they hunt gray whale calves. So, by proactively foiling orca hunts, perhaps the humpbacks are hoping to make them think twice about messing with their own calves.

Regardless though, consider me on Team Humpback. You check out a rescue in action in the BBC video below and read a more details report on this research here.

Here’s some more geek from the week:

Keep on geeking!
@Summer_Ash, In-house Astrophysicist