Blue whale attacked by killer whales in rare event videotaped off Monterey

Blue whale attacked by killer whales photo courtesy of Daniel Bianchetta
Blue whale attacked by killer whales. Photo courtesy of ©Daniel Bianchetta

It’s not often that blue whales are encountered during this time of year off Monterey, California, and the lone blue whale spotted Monday morning almost certainly wished it could have been elsewhere.

That’s because six transient killer whales were in the mood to harass larger cetaceans, and the accompanying footage shows what experts believe is a blue whale reacting to a killer whale bite to the fluke, or tail fin, by throwing its fluke into the air.

This type of interaction is extremely rare and the footage might represent the first documentation of a blue whale being attacked by killer whales off California.

The sighting occurred before noon aboard the Sea Wolf II out of Monterey Bay Whale Watch. The top image reveals that part of the fluke is missing; the second image shows blood streaming from the wound.

The video has been shortened to bring viewers closer to the blue whale attack (see the full version here). The footage shows the blue whale reacting to the bite by violently lifting and slapping its fluke. The second fluke almost certainly is that of the attacking orca.

Moments after this episode the blue whale fled and was not pursued by the orcas. (Click here to watch in fast- and slow-motion.)

Blue whale attacked by killer whales photo courtesy of Daniel Bianchetta
Blue whale attacked by killer whales. Photo courtesy of ©Daniel Bianchetta

Alisa Schulman-Janiger, a California-based killer whale researcher, said that although the killer whales were not visible during the tail-slapping event, it was clear that this was a physical confrontation and that the blue whale had just been bitten.

“The blue whale takes off like a bat out of hell, and there’s blood on its tail. That’s an interaction,” she said.

Blue whale attacked by killer whales photo courtesy of Daniel Bianchetta
Blue whale attacked by killer whales. Photo courtesy of ©Daniel Bianchetta

The Sea Wolf II was captained by John Mayer. Co-captain Mike Merlo captured the video footage. Monterey Bay Whale Watch is owned by Nancy Black, a prominent killer whale researcher, who was not aboard during the encounter.

There are additional clips and photos on the company Facebook page. The crew described the blue whale’s actions as “freaking out.”

Transient killer whales are known to attack gray whales, especially mothers and calves. Gray whales are beginning to migrate from Baja California nursing grounds to Arctic home waters, but it’ll be a few weeks until cow-calf pairs begin to pass Monterey. Killer whales ambush gray whales as they traverse Monterey Bay’s deep submarine canyon.

Blue whales, the largest mammals ever to have inhabited earth, typically arrive off Monterey and Southern California in late spring or early summer.

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