Orcas killing grey whale calves at 'unprecedented' rate

Photo from Monterey Bay Whale Watch via AP.

Whale watchers and marine biologists alike are being drawn to the Pacific waters off California in an attempt to catch a glimpse of an astonishing natural sight.

Over the past week, a pod of orcas have been ambushing and attacking grey whale calves at an “unprecedented” rate in Monterey Bay near Monterey, Calif., according to one marine biologist.

“It’s been pretty exciting lately, we’ve seen the killer whales here for eight days in a row,” Nancy Black, co-owner of Monterey Bay Whale Watch, told the The Mercury News. “The first attack was pretty spectacular because there were 33 killer whales involved in that, which is an extraordinary number.”

The feeding frenzy began on April 20, and since then, a pod of nine led by “Emma” has taken down a grey whale calf every other day.

Black told the newspaper the tactics and strategies used by these orcas to hunt the calves are unique to this pod and this pod alone. “They learn different methods of hunting from different areas so it’s passed on through the generations,” the marine biologist explained. “And this particular group, Emma’s group, is very good at it.”

While the death of a baby grey whale might be sound sad to some, the violence is certainly attracting a crowd. Whale watchers in the area have been captivated by the display of grace and aggression put on by the killer whales. Last Wednesday, the pod took down a calf in 20 minutes, which sets a new record, according to Black.

“Usually it takes on average one to two hours for killer whales to actually separate a grey whale calf from its mother and drown the calf,” she said.

But the danger and drama in the ocean seems to be escalating, as more and more whales migrate through Monterey Bay from Mexico, and humpback whales are getting involved, too.

“Humpbacks like to interfere with the killer whales for some strange reason,” Black told SFGate. “They seem to want to protect the prey.”