Did Orca Rescue Humpback Whale? A question we were all wondering after todays incredible tour that witnessed for the first time an entangled Humpback Whale being targeted by Orca in Bremer Bay during the summer. Our morning started as usual when we arrived in The Patch as one of our Pod Members onboard spotted a male Orca behind us and we watched carefully for the next surfacing. A flash of white that was over 7 meters in length raced past just ahead which seemed to be a possible Giant Squid below the waters surface as the male Orca erupted into a surge after the white shape. The sighting took a dramatic turn as the “squid” rolled back over and revealed a dorsal fin and fluke, it was a Humpback Whale who had been swimming upside down!
A stunning moment as it took a few seconds to process that we had a young Humpback Whale swimming in waters just off Bremer Bay on the 10th of January… why wasn’t he feeding in Antarctica? Looking carefully we could see a possible reason why as the distinctive whale lice and emaciated body condition indicated a Humpback who was not well. Lifting his fluke we could see that this Humpback Whale was entangled and our hearts sank, a terrible situation to be in when trying to defend yourself against the oceans apex predators. The male Orca responsible for finding this Humpback was Hookfin and he was shortly followed by a second large male known as Blade. The males surrounded the Humpback and as Grace launched her drone we could see incredible footage unfold as Blade raced towards the Humpback at high speed.
He rolled and during this process we could see Blade swimming directly underneath his fluke and looking at the rope entanglement. Further Orca arrived in the area and similar approaches were made as they charged towards the Humpback while he defended himself with pectoral fins and fluke swiping. Matriarch Queen arrived and moved towards the Humpback Whale which caused a commotion of white water and then something incredible happened… a large chunk of the green rope that was entangling this Humpback floated free behind him. Did Queen deliberately or accidentally in the interaction just help to disentangle this Humpback Whale? Shortly after this last approach the Orca regrouped and moved away from the Humpback much to our surprise, they had lost all interest and were now moving back towards The Patch as the Humpback swam away in the opposite direction. Once the Orca had left he approached us, circling closely around our vessel which gave a perfect opportunity to observe the severity of the injuries from the rope and it was good to see the vast majority of the line was no longer on this whale anymore.
The Humpback swam away from the area and we wondered about the future for this resilient little whale, will he be able to make the journey back to Antarctica to begin feeding or will schools of Pilchards and other feeding opportunities off this coastline sustain him until his population arrives along our coastline in the next few months. The incredible fact that the Orca managed to rid most of the rope from this whale before letting him swim away freely was truly fascinating, did the Orca deliberately rescue this Humpback or was the decision made that due to his ill health the effort of the hunt was not worth the energy reward at the end. Either way the Orca decided today that this Humpback was not to be eaten and left him to be as they swam away and spent a boisterous day of socialising together and harassing Sunfish instead. Our minds are still ticking over todays events, a tour which will stay with us forever and decision making by the Orca that was truely remarkable.