A pod of killer whales is stalking baby grey whales off Monterey Bay in California, but a patrolling group of humpback whales is doing everything in its power to foil the killer whales’ attacks.
At this time of year, gray whales and their calves are making their way up the California coast as part of their annual migration from Mexico to Alaska. A bounty of young, harmless grey whale calves is an irresistible lure for the top ocean-predators. [Watch Video of the Humpbacks Trying to Save the Gray Whale Calves]
Killer whales (or orcas) can always be found in the area off Monterey, but this year has been particularly grim for the killer whales’ prey. One orca gang, led by an adult female named Emma, has been camped out in Monterey Bay for the past few weeks, said marine biologist Nancy Black, who works with Monterey Bay Whale Watch, a whale-watching outfit. In the last 12 days, the deadly orcas have killed seven gray whale calves, she said.
Meanwhile, humpbacks have been in the area to feed on anchovies. They do not appear to be fans of the orcas’ deadly onslaught. Whenever they see an orca attack a gray whale calf, they rush in to stop it.
“Humpbacks have been charging in, probably because killer whales are the natural predators of the humpbacks also,” Black said. “They are charging in and trumpeting and trying to get in the way, using their tail flukes to try to slash them and push them away,” and being as boisterous and annoying as possible in the area, she said.
It’s not clear why humpbacks are trying to save the day, but it may just be a byproduct of their natural “hatred” for killer whales. Killer whales also prey upon humpback calves (though not adult humpbacks), Black said. Around this time of year, though, humpbacks don’t have their calves with them, so stepping in isn’t a matter of self-defense.
“They’re probably instinctually just…