On Saturday 27 April 2013 in the Aghullas current off of Algoa Bay, Port Elizabeth, Expert Tours guide, Rainer Schimpf and a German Film Crew witnessed two firsts as a pod of 7 Killer Whales (Orcas) hunted a Brydes Whale and then demonstrated that their complex social structures also seem to extend to caring for the handicapped.
In waves of 3.5 metre in height and in pursuit of a bait-ball sighting Schimpf observed large splashes ahead of his boat which were quickly established as Orca’s hunting. Schimpf says; “…. as we got closer we realized that there was a pod of 7 Orcas that were close to a bait-ball and we assumed that they were hunting common dolphins, as we have documented in the past. However as we came closer to the battle scarred pod of 7 Killer Whales we realised that 2 of them had broken dorsal fins, one with a bent fin like ‘Willy’ and one youngster had no dorsal fin at all. A huge male and 2 normal females accompanied the battle scarred Orcas. Quickly we realized what they were really hunting as the 2 females with broken and cut dorsal fins, obviously experienced hunters, led the pod, the big male was in a the distance herding their prey which revealed itself with a big splash – a Brydes Whale all of 15 meters long and probably 15 Tons in weight – a much larger prey than the hunters at around 5 metres in length. Following at a distance was the youngster who appeared to have fallen behind, we were soon to find out why.”
The splashing and fighting went on in front of the boat for some time, and finally the Brydes Whale was seen smashing his huge tail trying to fight off the Killer Whales only for the Indian Ocean waters to go quiet whilst the fight to the death carried on in the depths of the ocean as the desperate leviathan dove deep to try and evade his attackers. The Brydes Whale never surfaced again and Schimpf presumes that the whale lost his last battle.
In a National Geographic documentary it was once proven that Orcas attack whales and then only eat the tongue.
Whilst the pod was in the deep tearing the Brydes Whale apart the youngster who had fallen behind came close to the boat to inspect ‘these curious humans’. Rainer Schimpf was taking underwater images of the Killer Whale and than realized that it was effectively handicapped as it had no dorsal fin, only one pectoral fin the right side fin was missing as well. This animal was about 2 years of age and would have had to have been supported by the pod as hunting would be out of the question for him.
Incapable of fast hunting and ambushing prey it has to be dependent on the pod which, one assumes, looks very well after this Orca. It was brave and curious enough to come close to the boat and Rainer filmed his first ever wild pictures of a handicapped Killer Whale underwater.
After a while the youngster disappeared as well, presumably to dive down to the whale feast below. Such a kill would easily support the entire Orca pod and make sharing of the kill much easier than if they had taken a seal or a dolphin.
“So our mammal ‘relatives’ are not really only Ruthless Blind Killing Machines, but also have complex caring social structures in which they and care for their own handicapped members!”, concluded Schimpf.
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