# of killer whales: 5
ID: CA171B (Fatfin), CA21 (F), CA169 (F), CA155 (F), and CA175A (F)
On January 25, 2020, we watched CA171B Fatfin (large male), CA21 (F), CA169 (F), CA155 (F), and CA175A (F) hunt a newborn gray whale calf. We spotted CA171B first; CA21 surfaced next to him. This pair was attacking the newborn calf. The three whales right behind them were CA169, CA155, and CA175A. The killer whales circled the gray whale mom and her calf until they separated the calf from its mother, then quickly killed it. (The attack and kill happened under water, so we did not witness it). As the killer whales fed on the calf's blubber, they did post-predation celebratory behaviors including breaching and tail slapping. We saw CA21's damaged fluke (large chunks missing) and pectoral flipper (small nicks). They made several close passes to our boat throughout the day. Fatfin repeatedly approached our boat and even tried to bowride, a very rarely seen behavior! CA169 and CA175A were tightly associated throughout the encounter, swimming in sync. After the predation, we stayed with the orcas for hours, until after sunset. After the loss of her calf, the gray whale mom lingered at the scene and followed the killer whales for our entire observation period. This is extremely unusual, as moms typically leave shortly after the death of their calves.
This is first southbound calf attack ever witnessed by our California Killer Whale Project researchers. To our knowledge, the last successful documented southbound gray whale calf attack was in January 1921, when killer whales were seen feeding on a gray whale calf carcass in Monterey Bay!
Another unusual aspect of this sighting was the presence of CA175A, a very rarely encountered whale; we last saw her in April 2016, with different associates. CA21 and CA169 have been virtually inseparable for many years; sometimes they are joined by CA171B, a frequent visitor to Monterey Bay.
This video is of the killer whales swimming together and eating a piece of the gray whale calf blubber! We will post photos from this encounter on our next post. These whales were IDed by the California Killer Whale Project.
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Thank you to Monterey Bay Whale Watch for the video of this amazing event!
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