‘Crying for baby and mama humpback whale’

Humpback whale mom shares precious moments with her calf; photo by Steve Hinczynski

Divers on a recent excursion to Mexico’s Socorro Island became part of a scene that was so magical and idyllic that it will remain in their minds forever: a mother humpback whale and her newborn calf, along with a male escort, playfully going about their day seemingly without a care.

But the same divers, a day later, would learn how quickly and dramatically nature can turn things around; how a scene that was so wonderful one day could be so heart-wrenching the next.

Divers are greeted by humpback whale mom and calf; photo by Steve Hinczynski

Those magical moments were to be some of the last in the very short life of the baby whale, thanks to the arrival of two hungry and aggressive male killer whales.

“A bit of sadness hung with everyone for the rest of the day,” Steve Hinczynski, a passenger aboard the Solmar V, wrote on Facebook. “We all know that is how things work in the ocean (and nature in general). There are hunters and there are prey, and each needs the other to survive. While we only had a short time with the calf, it felt like we lost a close friend that morning.”

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The calf, Hinczynski added, had brought joy to the divers by learning, before their eyes, to surface for a breath on its own, then return to its place beside mom.

Hinczynski’s stunning photos, which he allowed to be used with this story, illustrate the beauty of a dive with a humpback whale family in gin-clear water. The killer whale image was captured by Lisa Sorensen, with a GoPro camera on a pole. The video shows the brief killer whale attack from above the surface. This could be the first documentation of a killer whale attack on humpback whales in Mexican waters.

The killer whales, believed to be Eastern Tropical Pacific orcas, arrived just after a morning dive at nearby Roca Partida.

One of two orcas that attacked and killed baby humpback whale; photo by ©Lisa Sorensen

The whales were still in the area. Half the divers were back aboard the mother ship, the Solmar V, and others had been picked up via inflatable boat, and another group was about to enter the water, using snorkeling gear, when the shout came: “Killer whales!”

We’ll spare the gory details of a quick battle and its aftermath, other than to say that both adult humpback whales fought ferociously–with the male escort at one point launching his body onto one of the killer whales–before the orcas had masterfully separated the calf and claimed their prize.

“Then the sadness hit us when we saw mama come up to breathe and exhale a couple of times,” reads a passage on the Solmar V Liveaboard blog. “The sound she made was just sad. We were all shocked.”


Later that day, aboard the Solmar V, various emotions were on display.

“Some divers were crying for the baby and mama humpback whale, others were sad but felt privileged to have witnessed the whole show,” states Antonio Romero, the blog author and dive instructor. “Definitely it was sad to watch a baby taken away from its mama, but it is nature and the cycle of life. We can be lucky to be witness to its power.”

It’s worth noting that killer whale attacks on whales, while they are rarely observed, are not uncommon. Many of the humpback whales that visit California boast teeth rake marks caused by killer whale attacks in Mexico, implying that for every young whale that’s killed, many more survive long enough to outgrow the threat.

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