“Orcas” Its head inside the blue whale’s mouth and began feeding on its tongue
“Orcas” Its head inside the blue whale’s mouth and began feeding on its tongue
Animals lalanews

Off the Kamchatka Peninsula in Russia, a boat full of scientists and tourists recently spotted several orcas attacking a minke whale, and they knew they were in luck.

It was also an opportunity to record (using an underwater microphone) the rarely heard sounds made by carnivorous mammals following a kill.

In addition to deploying a drone, the scientists gained a unique aerial perspective of the attack.

"The orcas pursued the whale for a considerable length of time; the drone was in the air when the whale almost ceased struggling; it was exhausted."

Inessa Yuryeva, a coordinator for Team Trip, a cooperation between the Far Eastern Russian Orca Project and Kosatka Cruises, stated that the whale still blasted water from its blowhole.

The videographer, Mikhail Korostelev, is the creator of Team Trip, an adventure tourism firm that helps fund orca research not generally funded by Russia's scientific agencies.

Yuryeva remarked, "Everyone was ecstatic; of course it is horrible to see the whale suffer, but this is nature, and it is great to witness a rare event like an orca hunt up close."

Orcas are the only species of cetacean capable of feeding on both fish and other animals, including dolphins and whales.

In general, resident orcas — those that dwell in the same location year-round – consume fish and squid, whereas transient orcas, the rarer species, hunt larger prey.

For example, there are perhaps 800 fish-eating orcas in Kamchatka but only 200 in the entirety of the Russian Far East.

The two species do not interbreed and have distinct social systems; also, wide-ranging transients possess the superior intelligence required to hunt other intelligent marine mammals.

Orcas' frightening moniker, "killer whales," is also a result of their predation on mammals.

"The tastiest portion possible"

Three to five members of transient orca families follow and suffocate a huge mammal until it drowns in the water.

Tatiana Ivkovich, a biologist with the Far East orca project who witnessed the encounter, surmises that the orca pod depicted in the video consisted of two families, including both adults and juveniles.

"Killing a whale is difficult and requires a great deal of energy, but they can accomplish this via cooperation, and the whale is large enough to supply food for everyone."

Ivkovich explains that the orcas targeted the minke whale's tongue, "the tastiest part," first.

"But, our orcas ate other parts of the whale, yanked on it for a long time, and only left behind the dorsal fin."

To identify individual killer whales, scientists examine the dorsal fin and saddle patches behind the fin, which vary in size and shape between individuals.

According to Ivkovich, scientists had never before observed this specific pod. Most likely, we've never encountered them before.

Cry of the Whales

Orcas produce calls, whistles, and clicks, the latter of which aids in echolocation, or the use of sonar to detect their surroundings.

Orca pods have their own dialects, which are passed down through the generations and are used to identify family members.

The study of these noises permits researchers to investigate the complex family and social structures of these creatures.

Yet, due of their stealthy hunting techniques, transient orcas are not particularly chatty.

Ivkovich states, "Mammal-eating orcas are virtually always silent and only make calls after hunting, therefore their acoustic behavior is less researched than that of fish-eating orcas."

But, the orcas that killed the minke delighted investigators by calling and echolocating for at least two hours.

The team intends to analyze the audio further, but preliminary findings indicate that these transient orcas converse as frequently as a resident pod.

theguardian, livescience, regionalposts, abc.net.au, watoday, and nationalgeographic are cited in the reference list.

Image sources: livescience, wikipedia, regionalposts, Naturaliste Charters Whale Watching, cnn, and earthtouchnews

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