Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute – November 6, 2018
Humpback whales bear stark battle scars from violent encounters with orcas, also known as killer whales. Analysis of rake marks on more than 3000 humpback whale tails or flukes suggest that attacks on these undersea giants may be on the rise, according to a new study in Endangered Species Research.
“We set out to discover where, when and at what age humpback whales in the Southeastern Pacific are attacked by orcas,” said Hector M. Guzman, marine ecologist at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute.
Orcas, Orcinus orca, like humans, are apex predators. Although they can feed on more than 20 different species of cetaceans, they usually prefer sea lions, fur seals, fish and sea birds. “Because the chances of observing rake marks on young, vulnerable whales increased in the last 20 years, we think that killer whale attacks on humpback whales may be more common now than they were in the past, perhaps due to the recovery of whale breeding stocks in the Southeast Pacific after hunting was prohibited,” said Juan Capella, lead author and marine biologist from Whalesound Ltd. in Chile.