A scientist who set out with a group of tourists on a whale-watching excursion on the Salish Sea was thrilled by a rare sight last Tuesday – a humpback whale following and then confronting a pod of transient orcas.
American naturalist Olivia Esqueda witnessed the conflict in the Strait of Georgia and said she had never seen anything like it.
“The humpback whale was kind of trailing behind them,” she said. “All of a sudden we saw the next surface with the humpback right in the middle of all the killer whales.”
For her, the experience on a whale-watching trip from Washington’s Friday Harbor is something she won’t forget.
“There is something happening in front of us that has never been seen before,” she told CHEK News. “It’s hard not to be like a kid at Disneyworld.”
It all happened aboard a San Juan Safaris whale-watching boat off Vancouver Island.
WATCH | Humpback Whale Encounter With Salish Sea Killer Whales Has Spectators Thrilled
The incident is not the only recent conflict off the coast of British Columbia between orcas and humpback whales. 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 young humpback whale. .
Capturing such encounters in the wild is rare, veteran whale watchers agreed.
“No exaggeration, I’ve never seen this before,” San Juan boat skipper Brian Goodtremont said in video Esqueda filmed during the encounter. “I’ve been doing this for 22 years.”
Victoria whale watching guide Mark Malleson, a skipper of Prince of Whales Whale Watching, agreed.
He said the humpback whale involved is known to whale watchers, and he believes the scars on the whale’s fin are likely from a previous conflict with orcas at a young age.
“When he was in his freshman year, he had a big knock,” he told CHEK News. “It would have happened when it was with his mom.”
Marine tension between the two species has been widely reported, according to a 2016 study by National Marine Fisheries Service researcher Robert Pitman.
He reviewed more than 100 such conflicts reported by scientists, nearly six out of ten of which were triggered by one or more humpback whales, often in what he called “mobbing behavior”, to save other marine mammals that orcas tried to hunt.