We got a report of orcas in the bay! We identified them as the CA202s, nicknamed the Smileys. They hunted several California sea lions. We got to the killer whales after they had killed a sea lion, most likely a large male. The killer whales brought the sea lion carcass over to the boat and dropped it right by us like they were showing it off. Then we noticed the sea lion had been skinned! We have previously observed killer whales skinning pinnipeds before eating them. One of the youngsters came over and grabbed the carcass; they fed on it for the next half hour or so. They ate all of the carcasses except for the intestines and lungs. Afterward, they began celebrating and were extremely social, as well as very interactive with the boat. They started bow riding, swimming upside down, hanging right next to the boat, and swimming underneath us!
Jodi Frediani noticed that one of the killer whales had something orange in its mouth. While Nancy Black drove, Tory Kallman used his GoPro to get footage. We immediately reviewed the footage and were shocked that it was a jelly in the mouth of the killer whale! The GoPro video allowed us to see the whale carrying it underwater just as we had seen another whale playing with the jelly at the surface. We suspect the whales passed it to each other and perhaps were playing a game, which is in line with their highly social behavior. The last time we saw a killer whale playing with a sea nettle jelly was in 2009 in a photo captured by Tory Kallman on a Monterey Bay Whale Watching trip! We wonder if jellies are perhaps more common play objects than we know, as it’s a hard thing to witness unless you’re in the right place with high-quality photos or videos to verify the sighting. An orca holding a jelly in its mouth might be similar to a dog holding a ball—it’s possible they pass the jellies around as a form of “playing ball.” It’s also possible that the jellies feel slightly tingly on their tongue, however, the sea nettles are not strong stingers and they have been extremely abundant over the last year. The calf CA202C played with the sea nettle for a few minutes, allowing us to get excellent footage. It was a remarkable day with these rarely seen whales!
Fourth photo by Jodi Frediani (2/6/21).
Screengrab of GoPro footage photos by Tory Kallman (2009)
Thanks to Captain Tim (GWW) for alerting us to this sighting!
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