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:
- For the hardcore geeks among you, the physics of flips and twists currently on display in Rio.
- The science of the Olympics as reflected in academic research papers.
- As if sharks weren’t dangerous enough, in World War II the Navy actually considered using them to bomb the enemy.
- Research shows babies know a lot more about how the physical world works than you might think.
- TIL there’s such a thing as a “fire whirl.” Then I learned that scientists have discovered a new type that could help with oil spill clean-ups. [VIDEO]
- If you’re a fan of science tourism, check out these five spots to see geology “in action.”
- Marvel characters Groot and Rocket are headed to space on a mission patch for research aboard the International Space Station.
- Space debris is a serious problem that’s only going to get worse. The European Space Agency has a plan. [VIDEO]
- Can you tell the difference between dunes on Earth and dunes on Mars?
- Next time you’re outside catching some rays, know that some of those rays are coming from outside our galaxy.
Keep on geeking!
@Summer_Ash, In-house Astrophysicist