Duck off! Extraordinary scenes as hungry killer whales prey on hapless sitting birds off coast of BRITAIN

July 30, 2016

Jaws of death: The inevitable is moments away as the orca appears in a riot of spray, baring its deadly teeth

There is a sinister ripple in the water… and seconds later this gaggle of eider ducks is scattered in a sudden explosion of violence.

Hunted down by a pod of hungry killer whales, the hapless ducks are a sitting target for one of nature’s most fearsome predators.

These extraordinary scenes were captured not in the wilds of the Arctic, but off the north-east coast of Scotland.

And for many of the unfortunate ducks, the looming black dorsal fin and gaping jaws of the killer whales – also known as orcas – were the last things they would see.

Wildlife photographer Guy Edwardes, who caught the dramatic confrontation on camera, said: ‘As the orcas approached, they caused the eiders to scatter.

‘They did not have time to get airborne. Some of the ducks dived and others fled to the shore – it was only those that survived.’

Mr Edwardes had been tracking the pod of orcas along the coast of Shetland’s Mainland when he got the shots.

He said: ‘They were hunting all morning and as they approached the headland, I managed to get right down to the shore.

‘There were four or five orcas in this particular pod, including an enormous male with a 5ft dorsal fin.’

The cold waters surrounding the Shetland Islands are one of best places in Britain to catch a glimpse of orcas – but an entire pod is still a rare and spectacular sight.

Although they are scarce around Britain, orcas are found in all of the world’s oceans, from the Arctic and Antarctic regions to tropical seas.

Killer whales are apex predators, as there is no animal that preys on them. They hunt in packs and can grow up to 32ft long and weight as much as ten tons.

Some orcas feed mainly on fish, others on sharks and rays, while some hunt marine mammals such as seals and dolphins. Seabirds and penguins are a tasty treat too.

They have even been known to attack large adult baleen whales.

For video of orca hunting Dolphin, look HERE



Humpback whales around the globe are mysteriously rescuing animals from orcas

July 30, 2016

Humans might not be the only creatures that care about the welfare of other animals. Scientists are beginning to recognize a pattern in humpback whale behavior around the world, a seemingly intentional effort to rescue animals that are being hunted by killer whales.

Marine ecologist Robert Pitman observed a particularly dramatic example of this behavior back in 2009, while observing a pod of killer whales hunting a Weddell seal trapped on an ice floe off Antarctica. The orcas were able to successfully knock the seal off the ice, and just as they were closing in for the kill, a magnificent humpback whale suddenly rose up out of the water beneath the seal.

This was no mere accident. In order to better protect the seal, the whale placed it safely on its upturned belly to keep it out of the water. As the seal slipped down the whale’s side, the humpback appeared to use its flippers to carefully help the seal back aboard. Finally, when the coast was clear, the seal was able to safely swim off to another, more secure ice floe.

Another event, involving a pair of humpback whales attempting to save a gray whale calf from a hunting pod of orcas after it had become separated from its mother, was captured by BBC filmmakers.

Perhaps the most stunning aspect of this behavior is that it’s not just a few isolated incidents. Humpback whale rescue teams have been witnessed foiling killer whale hunts from Antarctica to the North Pacific. It’s as if humpback whales everywhere are saying to killer whales: pick on someone your own size! It seems to be a global effort; an inherent feature of humpback whale behavior.

After witnessing one of these events himself back in 2009, Pitman was compelled to investigate further. He began collecting accounts of humpback whales interacting with orcas, and found nothing short of 115 documented interactions, reported by 54 different observers between 1951 and 2012. The details of this surprising survey can be found in the journal Marine Mammal Science.

In 89 percent of the recorded incidents, the humpbacks seemed to intervene only as the killer whales began their hunt, or when they were already engaged in a hunt. It seems clear from the data that the humpback whales are choosing to interact with the orcas specifically to interrupt their hunts. Among the animals that have been observed being rescued by humpback whales were California sea lions, ocean sunfish, harbor seals, and gray whales.

So the question is: Why are humpback whales doing this? Since the humpbacks seem to be risking their own well being to save animals of completely different species, it’s hard to deny that this behavior seems altruistic.

There is also some reason to believe that the behavior isn’t entirely selfless. Mature humpback whales are too large and too formidable to be hunted by orcas themselves, but their calves are vulnerable. Orcas have been witnessed hunting humpback whale calves in much the same way that they hunt gray whale calves. So, by proactively foiling orca hunts, perhaps the humpbacks are hoping to make them think twice about messing with their own calves.

Then again, maybe it’s just as simple as revenge. Even if it has more to do with revenge than altruism, though, the behavior would represent evidence of an intense and complicated emotional life among humpbacks that is unprecedented in the animal world, outside of primates.

One common feature among many humpback whale rescue efforts is that the humpbacks often work in pairs. Scientists will need to do more research into this behavior, though, to truly understand the significance of it.

Until then, these beautiful animals, which are perhaps best known for their majestic songs, have certainly earned some additional respect. They might just be the ocean’s most ferocious and selfless first-responders.


International expert flown in to help young orca

July 28, 2016

An international orca expert will arrive in the Bay today to help rescue a young calf separated from its pod.

For the last week the Department of Conservation and Orca Research Trust founder Dr Ingrid Visser have been working to help save a young orca, believed to be between six months and a year old, after it became separated from its pod in the Bay of Plenty.

Dr Visser arranged for international orca expert Jeff Foster to fly over from America to provide assistance and advice.

He previously led the capture of Springer the orca, who was separated from her pod as a calf, and later returned her back to her pod. He also worked to prepare the killer whale Keiko, from the 1993 movie Free Willy, for release into the wild.

Mr Foster was due to fly in at first light today and would be in the Bay by the afternoon.

Department of Conservation senior biodiversity ranger Brad Angus said the department had been monitoring an orca calf in the Bay of Plenty for a week.

“The best thing we can do for this young orca is to minimise interaction and direct contact with people as this will place more stress on the animal,” Mr Angus said.

DOC is asking for the public to stay away from the orca as approaching it would only add to its stress.

Dr Visser also urged members of the public to stay away from the calf because it needed all its energy to survive.

“One of the reasons it can survive on its own is that it has a blubber layer. At the moment it’s metabolising it’s blubber supply,” she said.


Heart-racing moment a plucky mammal escapes an onrushing orca by swimming into the Shetland shallows

July 27, 2016

Heart-racing video footage shows a seal’s close call with an onrushing orca hunting off the Shetland Islands.

The seal survives by swimming into the shallows seconds before the killer whale can catch up.

Island resident James Adamson, from Sumburgh, captured the close encounter while whale watching off the coast of Levenwick.

At the start of the video the seal appears oblivious to the master predator racing up behind it.

But quick as a flash it darts around and heads to safer waters.

See the Video for yourself Here


SeaWorld San Diego drops lawsuit over breeding ban

July 27, 2016

SeaWorld San Diego

SeaWorld San Diego has dropped a lawsuit against the California Coastal Commission that challenged the agency’s right to impose a ban on the breeding of killer whales at the theme park.

SeaWorld, facing pressure from animal-rights groups and others, announced in March that it would no longer breed its captive orcas.

“Fantastic news,” Coastal Commission Vice Chair Dayna Bochco said of the decision to drop the lawsuit filed in the Superior Court of California in San Diego. “This finally closes the chapter on captive orca breeding in California.”

SeaWorld and the Coastal Commission clashed when the theme park applied with the state agency to expand its orca holding tanks, saying it wanted to give the whales more room to swim and create a new opportunity for research.

The state agency approved the project in October but added the condition that SeaWorld stop breeding its whales. The condition, proposed by Bochco, ensured that the 11 whales at the park would be the last generation of orcas held in captivity there.

aWorld San Diego has dropped a lawsuit against the California Coastal Commission that challenged the agency’s right to impose a ban on the breeding of killer whales at the theme park.

SeaWorld, facing pressure from animal-rights groups and others, announced in March that it would no longer breed its captive orcas.

“Fantastic news,” Coastal Commission Vice Chair Dayna Bochco said of the decision to drop the lawsuit filed in the Superior Court of California in San Diego. “This finally closes the chapter on captive orca breeding in California.”

SeaWorld and the Coastal Commission clashed when the theme park applied with the state agency to expand its orca holding tanks, saying it wanted to give the whales more room to swim and create a new opportunity for research.

The state agency approved the project in October but added the condition that SeaWorld stop breeding its whales. The condition, proposed by Bochco, ensured that the 11 whales at the park would be the last generation of orcas held in captivity there.

SeaWorld sued, challenging the commission’s authority to impose the ban as a condition of the expansion plan.

But in the face of harsh criticism from animal-rights groups, declining attendance and slumping stock prices, SeaWorld reversed course and promised to stop breeding orcas, cancel the expansion plan and overhaul its theatrical killer whale shows.

Wayne Pacelle, chief executive of the Humane Society, who worked with SeaWorld to end the breeding program, praised the decision to end the legal battle.

“This shows that we are getting past the prior debate and acrimony,” he said.


Exclusive: SeaWorld’s Middle Eastern expansion will not include orcas, says CEO

July 25, 2016

SeaWorld’s first attraction outside of North America will also be its first not to include killer whales,Attractions Management can exclusively reveal.

The company, which pledged its current generation of orcas would be its last in captivity earlier this year, has firmed up plans for a Middle Eastern expansion – rumoured to be coming to either Abu Dhabi or Saudi Arabia.

“We have moved to a definitive agreement stage, money has changed hands and we’re currently designing the park, but we haven’t made a public announcement of where and who – something we hope to to in the fall,” said SeaWorld CEO Joel Manby, speaking to Attractions Management.

Under Manby’s stewardship, SeaWorld has spent the last year-and-a-half redefining itself as a park that cares and one that wants to create memorable experiences.

Manby first announced progress in SeaWorld’s global expansion plans during a call regarding the company’s annual earnings report, saying the company had “moved to the next phase” of its international development strategy by signing an MoU with a Middle Eastern partner.

When SeaWorld announced the end to orca breeding at its parks, no mention was made of its planned expansion, only that the whales would “live out their lives at the company’s park habitats”.

The move signals a new phase in the life of SeaWorld, with plans for a broader entertainment mix to replace its iconic orcas.

“Things are certainly progressing and it will be the first SeaWorld attraction ever to not have a killer whale facility,” Manby said. “We’re looking at other really big ideas in place of that.”

Manby also unveiled his vision for the future of SeaWorld: “Right now our parks are kind of built around large animal stadiums – dolphins, whales, sea lions etc,” he said. “We’re adding in an expanded ride mix with things like Mako, which we just launched in Orlando. We’re also looking at virtual reality to bring in animals that can’t be brought in live or to go behind the scenes with animals you can’t get near. We’re broadening the entertainment mix so we’re not just about animal entertainment venues, we want to be a caring animal company that’s really fun to visit but not just about animal entertainment.”

When asked about plans for further international expansion, Manby said it was certainly a possibility.

“When it comes to international expansion, yes we would like to do that but first-things-first we are currently very focused on getting the first one done in the Middle East. We are also looking at other Discovery Cove locations and we want to expand our resort strategy for our existing parks.”


Black, white, and rare: Cetacean Program finds killer whales in the main Hawaiian Islands

July 24, 2016


This month the Cetacean Research Program at PIFSC has been surveying the waters around the main Hawaiian Islands to better understand the population structure and abundance of a variety of whale and dolphin species.   We’ve brought along a number of technologies to detect, measure, and track cetaceans and call our effort “HI-TEC”, or Hawaiian Islands- Technology for the Ecology of Cetaceans, 2016. Among the most exciting encounters have been three sightings of killer whales, which are relatively infrequent visitors to the Hawaiian Islands.  They are spotted by recreational boaters every now and then, and their appearance usually makes the news.  NMFS cetacean surveys of the Hawaiian Archipelago have encountered killer whales only four times since 2002, and our research partners have seen them only a handful of times more.

Many people best know killer whales from the populations along the west coasts of the US and Canada.  Killer whales in Hawaii are distinct from those along the west coast of North America in that they have a comparatively narrow and dull colored saddle patch (the patch of gray shading behind and below their dorsal fin).  Killer whales in Hawaii have been observed feeding on other marine mammals, as well as on cephalopods (octopus and squid), somewhat unique relative to other populations that feed exclusively on either fish or mammals.  These observations suggest that Hawaii’s killer whales may have a more general diet than that documented for coastal temperate populations.  A review of all known killer whale sightings in Hawaiian waters from 1994 to 2004, combined with more recent sightings, indicates that killer whales may be present in Hawaii at any time of year.

Over the past two weeks, we found killer whales off the north side of Maui on July 13, off the southern Kona coast of the Big Island on July 16, and again off central Kona while working with our partners from Cascadia Research on July 21.  The two encounters off the Big Island were of the same group, while the group seen off Maui was different, distinguished by the shape of and nicks on their dorsal fins and the shape and coloration of the saddle patches.  Although our previous experience with killer whales in Hawaii has been that they are skittish and rarely stay around long enough for even identification photographs, all three encounters this month were extraordinarily productive.  We were able to collect small tissue samples (or biopsies) from all 5 whales seen off the Big Island, a significant increase in biopsy sample size for killer whales around Hawaii.  The biopsy samples will be used to understand how these killer whales relate to others throughout the Pacific, and can also contribute to foraging and contaminant studies.

We were also able to deploy two satellite tags during our last encounter, which will allow us to understand where else these animals spend their time.  Satellite tags have been previously deployed on one group of killer whales in Hawaii in November 2013 by Cascadia Research.  Those animals traveled halfway to the Marshall Islands before the tag stopped transmitting.  So far, our tagged whales have headed northeast, and are currently about 100 miles northeast of Maui.

During this survey effort, we’ve brought along a new tool: an APH-22 hexacopter that we’re testing for determining the size of dolphin groups and assessing the size and condition of individual animals within those groups.  This hexacopter work has been a partnership with the Cetacean Health and Life History Program at the Southwest Fisheries Science Center (SWFSC) and has yielded some amazing images this trip.  During the July 16th encounter with killer whales, the hexacopter team was able to capture some beautiful images, rounding out three incredible encounters with this rarely seen species.

Overall, a rare opportunity to study killer whales has yielded about as much data as we could have hoped to collect: thousands of photographs, tissue samples for genetic analyses, satellite tags for movement studies, acoustic recordings of killer whale sounds, and aerial photographs for measuring individuals.  Success!  What a great week!


Whales Mourn Their Dead, Just Like Us

Killer Whales in the Wild

Seven species of the marine mammals have been seen clinging to the dead body of a likely friend or relative, a new study says.

Smart and often sociable, whales forge tight bonds with one another. Now it’s clear that those bonds can be stronger than death itself.

More than six species of the marine mammals have been seen clinging to the body of a dead compatriot, probably a podmate or relative, scientists say in a new study.

The most likely explanation for the animals’ refusal to let go of the corpses: grief.

“They are mourning,” says study co-author Melissa Reggente, a biologist at the University of Milano-Bicocca in Italy. “They are in pain and stressed. They know something is wrong.”

Scientists have found a growing number of species, from giraffes to chimps, that behave as if stricken with grief. Elephants, for example, return again and again to the body…

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Whole Southern Resident Community Co-operates to Survive

Killer Whales in the Wild

By Chris Lydgate ’90 on June 22, 2016 09:21 AM

In the wine-dark waters of the San Juan Islands, a band of killer whales is fighting for survival.

Loss of habitat, human meddling, and intense competition for chinook salmon, its main source of food, have put severe pressure on these creatures. This band, known as the Southern Residents, is now smaller than any other group of resident killer whales, which live in communities scattered along the cold coastal waters of the North Pacific.

There are, in fact, just 81 whales left.

But the Southern Residents aren’t giving up without a struggle, according to bio majorMichael Weiss ’16. On the contrary, they have responded by rewiring their complex social structure to hunt for chinook more aggressively by working together.

“This is a new dimension of killer whale society that people hadn’t known about before,” says Michael, who won the…

View original post 917 more words

July 23, 2016

Orcas spotted from the ferry between Lerwick and Aberdeen

An orca expert has said recent killer whale visitors to Shetland are regulars in the summers.

Dr Andy Foote has been instrumental in setting up the North Atlantic Killer Whale ID (NAKID) project, which gathers knowledge on the movements and behaviour of individual animals.

Dr Foote, who now works on the genomics of killer whales at the University of Bern in Switzerland, said he could easily identify individual whales in photos taken over the last few days.

The predators have been watched by hundreds of delighted islanders and visitors over the last three days as the mammals came close in to hunt at Sumburgh, Gulberwick, Lerwick and South Nesting.

Tour operator Hugh Harrop of Shetland Wildlife said there was “an enigma” about killer whales that made them so attractive to watch, similar to other top of the food chain predators such as polar bears.

“We know very little about them and it is one of the ultimate animals to see in the wild,” he said.

Dr Foote said that most of the groups of killer whales seen around Shetland return to the isles each summer.

“We also know that some groups are spending the winter in Iceland feeding on herring before moving back to the northern isles and Caithness in the summer,” he said.

During fieldwork in 2008 and 2009, Dr Foote, then a PhD student at Aberdeen University, spent summer months in Shetland compiling an ID database of the killer whales roaming these northern waters.

And he confirmed that a photo of two orca calves in one pod, taken by on Tuesday at Sumburgh, was an unusual sight due to the small group sizes more commonly found in Scottish waters.