Brutal, Breath-Taking Beauty – An Interaction with Bigg’s (Transient) Killer Whales – 4/12/10

We (Jared Towers, Christie McMillan and I) went out on December 4th, 2010 on the waters of Northern Vancouver Island in the hopes of finding a humpback whale. We didn’t. Instead Nature gifted us with two sightings of Transient (Bigg’s) Killer Whales; a total of 16 animals.

First we found the T55s and T19s (IDs due to Jared’s skill). The lighting on this December day was so beautiful; when these whales blew, rainbows appeared to erupt around them

Then, when in transit back to Alert Bay, we found T139, the T140s and T141s.  We had also seen +/-300 Pacific White-Sided dolphins in the area so knew that there was a possibility that these transients might choose to have dinner. The display that we then witnessed was both brutal and breath-taking

One of the mature females erupted out of the water higher than I have ever witnessed. She cleared the surface by at least 1.5 body lengths, apparently having rammed the dolphin that was spinning through the air ahead of her. Other spectacular leaps followed, one where mother and calf leapt at the same time – mother high, her calf lower but in almost perfect synchronicity.

Transient killer whale mother and calf chasing Pacific white-sided dolphin

Once aware that the transients were there, the dolphins cascaded away with incredible energy. We could see them still in full flight, several kilometres away, more than 10 minutes after the initial attack.  But yes, at least one dolphin did not get away. It is the role of transient killer whales to eat other marine mammals; they need to feed their babies too.

Even after my 12 years on (and under) these waters, I am left stunned at the area’s beauty, biodiversity and the opportunity to learn. 

See more pictures of this encounter here


This story was adapted from a blog post from The Marine Detective.  Read the full blog post here

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