Location: West of Point Pinos
# of killer whales: 5
ID: CA140B (Louise), CA140B1 (Stinger), CA140B2 (Bee), CA140B3 (Buzz), CA23A2
We received a report of a killer whale sighting in Carmel Bay from a fishing boat. We headed south from Monterey Harbor to see if we could find them. When we found them around 9:20AM, they were attacking a California sea lion that was feeding on a fish. Killer whales were flying out of water one after another non-stop as if it was the fireworks finale. This group was the CA140Bs – Louise with her three youngsters, 7-year-old CA140B1 (Stinger), 3-year-old CA140B2 (Little) Bee, and 1-year-old CA140B3 (Buzz). There was another whale in this group which we identified as CA23A2.
Seagulls were picking up small bloody pieces out of water. Some looked like a part of a fish which the sea lion was feeding on. Some could have been a part of the prey. We saw a large amount of blood on the water which suggested that the prey could have been an elephant seal also. CA140B Louise was breaching many times. When she was not out of water, her two young ones CA140B2 (Bee) and CA140B3 (Buzz) were closely beside her. All five of them continued to swim together, sometimes in a tight group, often stopping, changing directions and milling. CA23A2 often surfaced next to Louise. We saw some blood next to one of the whales. It looked like they were feeding. More birds came and joined the feeding.
Soon, they found two more California sea lions. This predation looked like an obvious training session for the young killer whales. CA140B Louise was teaching her three youngsters how to hunt sea lions. She gave them repeated opportunities to practice their hunting techniques. The young killer whales followed and imitated her – hitting the sea lion with their head and flukes. The youngest Buzz was doing its best to keep up with mom. They attacked from all directions leaping sideways and even back flipping to hit the target. Sometimes they moved away from the prey, then turned around and circled the prey in a coordinated manner. By 11:30AM, two humpbacks came and surfaced abruptly with trumpet blows right next to the killer whales and sea lions. They were chasing the killer whales away from the sea lions. Our drone captured the footage of a humpback lifting a sea lion on its back at some point. The humpback whales were identified as HW-MN0501296 and CRC-10759 (Pepper’s mom a.k.a. Venus) by Ted Cheeamns, co-found of Happywhale. HW-MN0501296 had killer whale rake marks on its fluke which suggested that he/she was a survivor of severe killer whale attack. We have a joint publication on Humpbacks interfering with killer whales stopping them from hunting and feeding on prey, and we often observe this interaction. Those humpback whales did stop the killer whales from continuing the attack on the sea lion for at least 30 minutes, then the humpbacks left, Eventually the killer whales came back to finish the predation.