August 2, 2016
A crew of marine tour guides aboard a training boat were lucky enough to witness a pod of eight orcas preying on humpback whales and their newborn calves.
Prue and Stephen Wheeler, who work with Coral Bay Eco Tours, were on a boat off Ningaloo Coast, in north-west Western Australia, when the ruthless attack began.
For the next five hours they watched on in awe as the killer whales, one of the ocean’s fiercest apex predators, tactically separated the protective and powerful mother humpback from her baby, before holding it underwater and drowning it.
Mr Wheeler said the bull or lead male orca would race in to separate the mother from her calf, at which point the rest of the pod would zoom in for backup.
‘Some of the orcas were holding the calf down, and some were shepherding the mother from coming back in and taking the calf back,’ he told Daily Mail Australia.
‘It was pretty incredible, I’ve been up here for about five years, you hear that this stuff does happen but pretty rare to see.’
Mr Wheeler, who was watching on with his wife Prue, said the visual experience was both emotional and incredible.
‘It’s quite emotional, to see the desperate mother to protect her young,’ he said.
‘I heard the newborn calf coming up to breath after being held down for five minutes … the sound that it made, that last breath of desperation (was horrible).
‘At the end of the day it’s nature and orcas need to eat as well.’
Prue Wheeler, who runs the photography page ‘SeaLife Differently,’ was able to document the remarkable attack, which up until 2014 was considered impossible.
She said the humpback whale protected her new born calf by lifting her out of the water and onto her back, as well as using the advantages of the shallow reef.
Throughout the day the boat watched on and followed as the pod of orcas made five separate attacks, two of which were successful and resulted in the death of a calf.
Mr Wheeler said after the killings some of the killer whales came up to the boat while holding onto the dead whale, in a movement he described as ‘showing off.’
Humpback whales can grow up to 16 metres long and weigh an average of 39,000 kilograms.