Seemingly not-so-killer humpback whales entangled in fishing gear
Tourists and crew on a whale watching expedition from Bremer Bay were shocked to see a lucky humpback whale tangled in fishing gear. When they saw killer whales heading towards him, they feared the humpback whale’s day was over, a suspicion the unfortunate whale likely shared. Yet instead of living up to their name, the killer whale pulled most of the humpback whale’s fishing lines and then swam away, leaving astonished observers to wonder if their actions were deliberate solidarity. with cetaceans or simply by chance.
Humpback whales are rarely seen during the summer months in the waters off southern Australia, where Whale Watch Western Australia (WWWA) operates. However, WWWA owner Gemma Sharp told IFLScience that during their migrations, they sometimes fall prey to orca pods.
Orca attacking a healthy adult would likely be crushed by a tail swipe. However, Sharp said; “Half the pod will distract the mother so the other half can drown a calf a few hours or a few days old.” Once a juvenile humpback whale leaves its mother, danger returns, with the pods sometimes grabbing the larger whale’s flukes and trying to roll it onto its back and hold it long enough to drown.
Having seen a humpback whale barely survive such an event last year, the WWWA crew feared the entangled individual might turn out to be a sitting duck for the orcas, which they know well enough to have a name for. individual. They launched a drone to film the terrible event, but instead got something much better.
“We could see Blade swimming directly under his lucky shot and watching the rope tangle,” reports the WWWA on its website. “Also Orca arrived in the area and similar approaches were made as they charged towards the hunchback while he defended himself with pectoral fins and a lucky shot. Matriarch Queen arrived and headed towards the humpback whale causing the white water to churn, then something amazing happened…a big piece of the green rope that was tangling this humpback whale floated freely behind him.
The pod didn’t just give the hunchback a fighting chance either; they headed west, while the released whale approached the boat before swimming wisely east.
As the humpback whale approached, the WWWA team could see that there was only a small fishing line left, probably not enough to pose a major problem. On the other hand, the whale was underweight and riddled with parasites, indicating that it had been carrying the line for a long time and had difficulty feeding. Presumably, that was why he wasn’t in Antarctic waters looking for summer krill like the rest of his species. The events took place off Bremer Bay, where phantom currents produce an astonishingly rich marine ecosystem.
Sharp told IFLScience that killer whales tear the skin off beaked whales — as well as squid, this pod’s main summer diet — before eating them, which is seen as an effort to avoid parasites. Perhaps the whale lice plaguing the humpback whale saved it from a worse fate.
It still leaves the question of why the orca helped its usual prey – Sharp said some customers joked they were leaving it to fatten up for the next year. Alternatively, the orca may have simply been curious about the fishing line and accidentally dislodged it while investigating. Sharp notes that killer whales have been known to bite off the expensive satellite tags of larger whales.
However, the unusual way the orca moved left Sharp with the distinct impression that they were “longing to give the humpback whale a second chance.” She notes that they sometimes bring gifts such as sunfish to the boat, although they are not fed back. Maybe this was really an example of this very controversial thing, altruism in animals.