The Pacific Whale Watch Association says there’s a reason orcas are called killer whales.
They say this week, a whale-on-whale battle between transient orcas, also known as Bigg’s killer whales, and 40-ton gray whales, played out not far offshore from Everett.
“It was a clash of the titans out there,” said senior deckhand and naturalist Tyson Reed of Island Adventures Whale Watching. “We had just watched this group of Bigg’s conduct an incredibly efficient hunt of some unlucky sea mammal just off the west side of Gedney Island – precise, quick, agile movements, ripping it apart, feeding the small parts to the young. Spectacular, as always with these guys, but then the show really began.”
The crew then saw the group of four killer whales continue north into Saratoga Passage and directly into the company of two adult “Saratoga gray whales,” part of about a dozen migratory eastern north Pacific grays that come into this part of Puget Sound each spring to feed on ghost shrimp.
“Four killer whales aren’t about to take on two 40-ton grays,” said Reed. “Or at least we thought they wouldn’t. But one of the transients, who we know as T137A, decided to have a go at these guys and the battle was on. Pec fins began to fly left and right as the grays rolled onto their backs and blasted T137A with their blows. They were definitely not happy to have the orca intruding on them and were fighting back.”
“It was a major altercation,” said Capt. Michael Colahan of Island Adventures. “Both grays rolled over maybe a dozen times. Pretty wild!”
PWWA says things soon took a bad turn for the intrepid orca as he found himself in the middle of two extremely perturbed leviathans. They say the killer whale, overmatched and likely calling for help, soon got some backup from his mother, T137, who quickly parked her two younger offspring safely about 500 yards to the north, changed direction and headed over to the tussle. What transpired then can only be speculated.
“But if orca mothers are like human mothers, chances are Mama sorta grabbed her boy by the ear, gave him a few stern words about picking fights on the playground, and led him away,” said Michael Harris, Executive Director of Pacific Whale Watch Association, which represents 36 operators in BC and Washington. “And sure enough, after a few more pec slaps and commotion, our young killer whale friend was dusting himself off and heading north with his mother – probably with a scrape or two to remind him to pick on something his own size next time.”
The two grays who survived the attack, known by researchers as #56 and #531, had no visible injuries.