A pod of killer whales put on quite a show for B.C. whale watchers and marine researchers just south of the border on Thursday.
A mother orca was spotted leaping and diving in the waters off the north side of San Juan Island in Washington State in front of its two young calves. The large orca was teaching its young how to hunt sea lions in an impressive demonstration caught on camera.
To the audible delight of spectators on a nearby whale-watching boat and a Vancouver research vessel, the orcas were in clear view as they hunted their prey. Traci Walter from Western Prince Whale Watching marvelled at the spectacle during a phone interview with CTV Vancouver on Thursday.
“It just blows your mind,” Walter said. “Nature’s top ocean predator doing what it does best.”
Meghan Moore, a research biologist with the Vancouver Aquarium, said the valuable teaching lesson is important for the species’ survival and exciting for scientists to witness first-hand.
“They’re really trying hard to tire out, injure, or even drown the sea lion before they go in for a final kill shot,” Moore said.
According to researchers who have been studying the orca population in the region, the pod is the same one captured in another video hunting a sea lion in the waters of Howe Sound, northwest of Vancouver, last month.
Walter said these recurring sightings likely mean food is abundant for transient killer whales, unlike the endangered southern resident orcas, which primarily feed on Chinook salmon.
“The marine mammal eaters are quite a stable population,” Walter said. “They have a lot of food to choose from. That certainly plays a role in why we’re seeing them so often.”
The mother orca and its calves spent approximately 15 to 20 minutes stalking and pursuing the sea lion before it managed to escape, according to Walter.
Despite losing out on a meal this time, researchers are confident the killer whales will have many more chances to feed in the plentiful waters off the B.C. coast.
With a report from CTV Vancouver’s Scott Hurst