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Racing Blue Whales and Orcas!

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Animal Updates | Mammals | Video | Whale Watching

Thursday, September 22, 2011


All within one week!

All I can say about the last two weeks of whale watching is “WOW!” We’ve seen everything from vocal blue whales to transient orcas harassing a sea lion. I’m not sure it can get much better than this!

Last week I headed out first thing in the morning to go in search of some blue whales with NBC on board with us to get some footage. We also had Alisa Schuman-Janiger from the American Cetacean Society on the boat with us. The day started out as most other days on the water. We headed out past the break wall and went straight to the deep water. We got out there to our first couple of whales and were excited to see that we had some whales that were showing nicely. After about 30 minutes, Alisa and I noticed A LOT of splashing going on about a mile behind us. We thought “hmmm, I wonder if they’re lunge feeding?” We alerted the captain and took off for those whales.

Upon arriving at the newly spotted whales we noticed behaviors that were anything but feeding. There were four blue whales and they were moving quickly and aggressively. What we saw was a behavior called racing. Typically this is when there’s a female leading and a couple of males following her, possibly trying to court her. There’s a lot of thrashing around, chin slaps, and head’s lunging out of the water. We’re not sure of the sexes of the whales because I haven’t gotten a positive ID on them yet, but it was definitely an exciting 30 minutes of four whales chasing each other.

If that wasn’t exciting enough, at one point the lead whale made a turn and came right towards us. I knew this was going to be an amazing photo and started snapping away. The film crews were standing close by and started recording. As the lead whale passed by the boat we heard this low moaning sound. It was something I’d never heard before. It went on long enough for me to realize that the sound was coming from the whale! I looked at Alisa and at the same time we both said “Did you hear that?!?” We immediately turned to the news crew and asked if they caught that on their camera. They did! [Please note, the video below is embedded from the MSNBC News website and it may contain advertisements. We do not endorse them and they are not our sponsors. We are not responsible for any related videos at the end. We are simply embedding the video to share this amazing experience caught on camera with you. Please play at your own discretion.]

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I’ve been going on the boats for about four years and I’ve never heard anything like that. Alisa’s been going out a lot longer than I have and she also has never heard that. We got on the phone with blue whale researcher John Calambokidis right away and told him what we’d heard. I’m still waiting to hear back as to what he thought, but it sounded like he’d never heard anything like that before either. After he reviews the clip, hopefully we’ll know a little more about that sound!

To really finish up an already phenomenal week of whale watching, our boats also saw orcas! We had seven whales from a transient pod come up to the boat and even stalk a sea lion! Transient orcas are the mammal eating kind. Within these seven whales were two calves! They were spyhopping right next to the boat and really give the guests a great show! Although we didn’t see the whales eat the sea lion, it’s very possible the orcas were teaching the new calves how to hunt. What an incredible experience for all of those guests on board!

With all this stuff going on, it’s so hard to not be on the water. I think if I could live on the water in the middle of the ocean, I would! Although I can’t do that, I will be out there as much as I can in the following weeks and would encourage others to join me and other Aquarium staff! I can’t think of any other time that the whale watching has been so good!

Racing Blue Whales and Orcas!
This is a picture of the blue whale right before we heard what seemed to be a vocalization.  | Kera Mathes
Racing Blue Whales and Orcas!
These are a few of the transient orcas moving around a sea lion.  | Chris Mumford
Racing Blue Whales and Orcas!
The orca gave the guests a great show!  | Chris Mumford

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