Local whale watchers were completely caught off guard when they witnessed two species of whales battling it out off the coast of Vancouver Island on Sunday.
Several boats operated by the Pacific Whale Watch Association (PWWA) saw a group of marine mammal-eating Bigg’s orca whales taking on two adult humpback whales and a calf about 69 kilometres west of Victoria in the Strait of Juan de Fuca – near the mouth of the Jordan River.
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Between two and four humpback whales in the vicinity came to the rescue according to those who witnessed the epic tussle between the apex predators of the sea and humpback whales weighing up to 50 tons. It’s believed that the orcas were after the calf, which avoided a close call with death if it weren’t for the protective measures of the adults.
“At one point, not far from our boat we saw what we thought at the time was a large blood burst and seconds later a humpback, possibly the calf, rose and remained stationary at the surface for a few minutes,” Valerie Shore of Eagle Wing Tours of Victoria said in a release.
Another witness thought they saw the calf’s tail torn as it seemed to be hanging oddly, but they were too far away to confirm it.
But as it turns out, what Shore saw as a “large blood burst” was later confirmed to be whale poop.
“Maybe it was a defence mechanism like octopus and squid use – more likely, it was a very frightened humpback,” said Shore.
The orcas retreated after the humpbacks, with reinforcements, decided they had enough and decided to advance on the transients in force.
Whale watchers say there has been a resurgence in the number of humpback whales in local waters over the last few years. In fact, over the past few weeks, there have been numerous sightings of large groups of humpbacks – as many as 20 in each group.
“We been calling it ‘Humpback Heaven,’ these large congregations lately of humpbacks in the Strait of Juan de Fuca,” said Michael Harris, the Executive Director of PWWA. “And for the last several years we’ve also been reporting a record number of sightings of Bigg’s killer whales in the Salish Sea, so I guess it was only a matter of time before that twain met.”
This past spring, a humpback whale was seen lingering in Burrard Inlet in Vancouver for at least two weeks.