- A female orca appeared to have captured a pilot whale in the first such incident.
- Scientists observed the orca caring for the calf in western Iceland in 2021, says a new study.
- The study noted that the orca never had a calf of her own.
A female orca appeared to have captured or abducted a pilot whale in the first such case, according to scientists.
The orca, known as “Sædís,” was observed swimming with the pilot whale calf in August 2021 in western Iceland.
The scientists noticed that Sædís was not alone with the calf but was actively caring for it.
Two other orcas, probably from the Sædís pod, were also present, but no other pilot whales were seen – which is unusual as pilot whales also travel in pods.
This is the first scientific documentation of an orcas feeding and caring for a pilot whale calf.
The findings, recently published in the Canadian Journal of Zoology, document the care of orca mothers for pilot whale calves and suggest that the relationship between the two species is more complex than previously thought.
Marie Mrusczok, the lead author, told Newsweek that there were clear signs that the orca was caring for the calf.
“The orca was swimming with the pilot whale calf in the echelon position, meaning the calf was swimming directly behind the orca’s pectoral fin,” she said.
“The echelon position allows a calf to make fewer tail tuck movements than when swimming alone and to overcome physical limitations during high speed travel – in other words, the calf is ‘carried’ by the pressure wave created by the larger body of the an adult. “
However, Elizabeth Zwamborn, an academic on the research team, told the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s Nausea show that it was unclear whether the adoption was altruistic.
She said the relationship could be interpreted as a “beautiful, warm adoption story” or a killer whale abduction case.
“But there is also a good chance that she kidnapped this calf from a group of pilot whales. Outside of Iceland, there has been a lot of interaction between the two species, and pilot whales are often seen in pursuit of killer whales ,” she said.
“We don’t know what the reasons are, but if there’s a chance that there’s a female orca here and there that tries to take a calf from the pilot whales, that would certainly give them a reason to chase.”
The study noted that Sædís never had a calf of her own, so it is possible that she took the pilot whale calf as a substitute.
Zwamborn said the calf appeared emaciated and appeared not to have been fed recently, which would make sense as the female orca would likely be unable to nurse, having not nursed her own young. birth
Both orcas and pilot whales have very similar family structures in the wild, which may explain the relationship.
About a year later, Sædís was observed with a group of long-finned pilot whales, but the calf was not present. Additional contacts between Sædís and the pilot whale pod indicated a deliberate attempt to find a new calf, the findings said.
Zwamborn told CBC that the interactions Sædís observed with pilot whales appeared to be unique and that she may have been trying to kidnap another calf.