Killer whales off the cost of Monerey Bay are living up to their name.
The whales have reportedly chalked up their fourth kill since last Thursday after separating a helpless gray whale calf from its mother.
Scientists called the killing spree in the area “unprecedented.” In the case of the gray whale calf, sightseers on a whale watching tour had front-row seats during the hunt. The San Francisco Chronicle reported that whale watchers have been able to see, firsthand, hunts that are usually only seen in productions.
“This has never happened in my thirty years,” Nancy Black, a marine biologist with Monterey Bay Whale Watch, told The Chronicle. “Just to witness that out in nature when you usually see that kind of thing on television is really spectacular.”
Monterey Bay historically is a favorite spot for orcas to intercept migrating gray whales.
“Humpbacks like to interfere with the killer whales for some strange reason,” Black said.
“They seem to want to protect the prey.” She added that humpback whales will sometimes charge over to the site of the kill and blow their trumpets, trying to get the killer whales to back off.
Monterey Bay is a prime hunting ground for orcas as gray whales make their way up the California coast.
“Mothers and calves are last to migrate because they stay in Mexico longer so their calves can grow up and gain weight before they make that long migration.”
The mothers and their calves typically remain fairly close to the shore on their migration northward because it’s safer and food is more abundant. However, as they come across Monterey Bay, the geography makes it harder for them to stay close to the coast.
The killer whales are familiar with the gray whales’ migratory habits and are often wait in the bay for young, vulnerable gray whale calves to cross. This year, the arrival of the gray whales came a few weeks late (the water was cooler in Mexico, so the whales had to migrate farther south than usual), which meant lots of hungry killer whales were waiting.
“These nine whales must be very full yet continue to eat,” Black said. “I expect they will become even more social in upcoming days as they [usually] do after stuffing themselves.”
According to NBC, despite the feeding frenzy, the killer whales show no signs of slowing down.