Natural history whale watching guides amazed at how humpback whales hunt orcas in the Salish Sea

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A scientist heading out with a group of tourists on a whale-watching tour of the Salish Sea last Tuesday was amazed by a rare sight — a humpback whale following a pod of passing killer whales and then being confronted.

US naturalist Olivia Esqueda witnessed the conflict in the Georgia Strait and said she had never seen anything like it.

“The humpback whale was kind of running after them,” she said. “We suddenly saw the next surface with the humpback whale in the middle of all the killer whales.”

For her, the whale watching experience from Washington’s Friday Harbor is something she won’t forget.

“Something is happening ahead of us that has never been seen before,” she told CHEK News. “It’s hard not to just be like a kid at Disneyworld.”

It all took place aboard a San Juan Safaris whale watching boat off the coast of Vancouver Island.

CLOCK | The encounter of humpback whales and orcas of the Salish Seas delights the spectators

The encounter of humpback whales and orcas of the Salish Seas delights the spectators

A scientist with a group of tourists on a whale-watching tour in the Salish Sea on April 12 was amazed by a rare sight — a humpback whale appearing to harass a pod of passing orcas. Katie Daugherty/CHEK News. 1:00

The incident isn’t the only recent conflict between orcas and humpback whales off the coast of BC. On March 9, a whale-watching tour operator in Tofino filmed the reverse, and more common scenario, in which a pod of transient orcas — also known as Bigg’s killer whales — attacked a juvenile humpback whale.

Capturing such encounters in the wild is unusual, experienced whale watchers agreed.

“No exaggeration, I’ve never seen this before,” said San Juan boat skipper Brian Goodtremont in video filmed by Esqueda during the encounter. “I’ve been doing this for 22 years.”

Victoria’s whale watching guide Mark Malleson, skipper at Prince of Whales Whale Watching, agreed.

A pod of transient killer whales, also known as Bigg’s killer whales, observe a humpback whale positioned off-frame in the Salish Sea off Vancouver Island on April 12. (Ellie Sawyer/Maya’s Legacy Tours)

He said the humpback whale in question is known to whale watchers and he believes the scars on the whale’s fin are likely from a previous encounter with orcas at a young age.

“It was close the first year,” he told CHEK News. “It would have happened when it was with his mother.”

According to a Study 2016 by National Marine Fisheries Service researcher Robert Pitman.

He reviewed more than 100 such conflicts reported by scientists, nearly six in 10 of whom believed one or more humpback whales to be involved, often in what he called “bullying behavior,” to save other marine mammals the orcas were preying on tried.

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