May 14, 2013

The Mouse Escapes

Our guests have been lucking out lately!  Bigg’s Killer Whales, with their erratic diving behavior and extended dives, can be a challenge to view at times.  However, observers who are lucky enough to see orcas locate prey and witness the gritty details of a kill easily get their fill of whale watching.  Often, killer whales with their prey can be analogous to a cat and mouse.  The process can be drawn out and grisly.  I get exhausted just watching them!

Today the Transients were working over a Steller’s Sea Lion for 2 hours near the Swartz Bay ferry terminal north of Sidney, BC. When we first arrived on scene, the clever sea lion was trying to position another whale watching boat between itself and its predators. The chosen boat was zigzagging away from the melee with the orcas in hot pursuit.  In an act of desperation, seals and sea lions may make a sudden attempt to haul out on a nearby boat to escape their attackers.

One couldn’t help but wonder about the strategizing of the killer whales as they swarmed the sea lion, dispersed in opposite directions, and then returned to deliver another assault.  Our hydrophone picked up a great deal of high pitched communication.  Several full breaches appeared almost effortless and in slow-motion as they launched themselves out of the water and landed nearly back in the same spot, pummeling the lion in the process.  There were several juvenile whales present that may have been receiving some on-the-job-training. These animals lingered on the perimeter and also performed excited breaches. Remarkably, the sea lion escaped, although after such an assault we wonder whether it will be able to survive the day.

Naturalist Andrew, San Juan Safaris