Amazing hunting behavior of killer whales

February 7, 2010 • 7:12 am

I’m reading a new book on biogeography, Here Be Dragons, by Dennis McCarthy.  It’s a popular-science introduction to the field, designed to show how evolution, along with plate tectonics and other changes in the configuration of land and sea, can explain the puzzling distributions of plants and animals on our planet. It’s worth a read, though a bit light on data and sometimes purplish in the prose.

Anyway, McCarthy mentions an amazing hunting behavior of orcas (Orcinus orca, also called killer whales), and gives a YouTube URL for the behavior.  I’ve put the video below.  Here you see a group of orcas pursuing a seal who’s taken refuge on an ice floe.  The whales band together and head toward the floe, creating a bow wave that washes the seal into the water, ready for consumption.  This video, however, has a happy ending:

18 thoughts on “Amazing hunting behavior of killer whales

    1. I was thinking the same thing. I doubt the seal appreciates being a prop for their childhood education. Still better than getting eaten, though. 🙂

  1. I saw a ‘Nature’ on humpback whales in Hawaii and then Alaska (i.e. they migrated) the other day. There was an ominous bit in Alaska when some Orcas turned up – I was vaguely surprised to learn that they take calves. I thought it was all seals seals seals with them.

  2. I was on the Lindblad expedition to Antarctica that encountered this incident in January 2006 (Ingrid Visser was serving as a naturalist for Lindblad). We were tickled that CNN picked this up (it was one of the most amazing things any of us had ever seen) — and then flabbergasted that CNN converted the ending into a happy one. In reality, after putting the seal back on another floe, the orcas practiced the whole routine a second time, and then polished the seal off for dinner. This is all visible on the Lindblad tape excerpted by CNN.

    It was amusing watching the reactions of our shipmates as this played out. The women, by and large, were fretting for the poor seal; while the men were rooting for the orcas. But there was a decided tinge of fear, too. The video doesn’t make clear how ominous it feels when the larger orcas come out of the water to assess the situation. I could feel the hairs rising on the back of my neck. This is real predation, folks.

  3. While one must marvel at the elegant and effortless clarity of “Why Evolution is True” — a must read for everyone interested in the subject — I also did indeed appreciate the occasional purpleness of “Here Be Dragons.” Indeed, some reviewers referred to it as an “eloquent,”(1), “wonderful,”(2) “silkily written,”(3) “… “grand time-and-space voyage of the imagination,” (4) filled with “succinct and colorful prose,”(5) and “grand poetic sweeps,”(6) that “imbues his subject with an infectious sense of drama, tragedy and beauty” (7). Even still, McCarthy has “a precision and clarity reminiscent of the other great science popularizes….[and] makes biogeography into a story that is both intelligible and compelling”(8).
    (Fortunately, I, um, just happened to have those quotes handy. 😉 )

    1) Mark Cocker, BBC Wildlife Magazine 2) Dan Agin, Huffington Post 3) Jonathan Wright, Geographical, 4) Agin, Huffington Post, 5) Lynn Harnett, Portsmouth Herald, 6) Christopher Lloyd, Times Literary Supplement 7) Harnett, Portsmouth Herald, 8) Cocker, BBC Wildlife Magzine.

    1. I’m hoping my prior comment (the review comments on “Here Be Dragons”) comes across as gentle and amiable teasing. “Why Evolution is True” is one of my favorite books on the subject that’s come out in a long while — and I am a devoted fan of this blog. So, of course, I just couldn’t resist. 😉

      1. Yes, certainly. But there are some typos and stuff in the book that need to be corrected. For instance, the bird “tinamou” is repeatedly referred to as “tinamous”, even in the singular. When you talk about the platypus, it says something like it looks as if a duck’s bill is “sown” to a beaver body. Should be “sewn”. There are others but I didn’t keep track of them. Before reprinting the book needs a good comb by a proofreader.

      2. Ouch and yep. The tinamou mistake is embarrassing, and I had another friend catch it too. And I (or others) have found a number of other errors as well. I’m up to about twelve — which probably means there are twenty to thirty.

      3. Also, just to add some additional concern regarding the “New Scientist” –as you wrote, the mag “always jumps gleefully on any idea that combines the words ‘Darwin’ and ‘wrong.'” Well, to that end, while the New Scientist review of “Here Be Dragons” was pretty positive, they still admonished me for having a “slightly strident anti-creationist tone.”
        Hmmm. One wonders what is going on over there.

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