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Scientists witness first known case of orca infanticide

Issued: 2018-03-23

‘His blubber shook like Jell-o,’ says researcher of the attack on newborn orca by unrelated 32-year-old male

Ashifa Kassam in Toronto

Fri 23 Mar 2018 03.00 EDT Last modified on Fri 23 Mar 2018 03.41 EDT

Scientists in the Canadian province of British Columbia have documented what is believed to be the first reported case of an orca whale killing an infant of the same species.

“We knew right away that this was a remarkable event,” said Jared Towers, a Cetacean researcher with Fisheries and Oceans Canada, of the encounter he and two colleagues witnessed in December 2016.

“We’ve been looking at killer whales for years on this coast and around the world – I study populations in different parts of the world – and witnessing aggressive behaviour between killer whales is almost unheard of.”

Details of the incident were published this week in the journal Scientific Reports. The group had headed out to the northeastern coast of Vancouver Island after reports of strange vocalisations from killer whales in the area. When they arrived, they found a group of whales including one that appeared to be just a few hours old.

They were about to leave when they heard splashing. “So we went over and that’s when we saw that the calf wasn’t surfacing anywhere,” said Towers. They then saw a male swim under their boat holding the newborn calf in his mouth.

Researchers soon realised they were watching two different family groups interact –the family to which the calf belonged was being attacked by an unrelated 32-year-old male and his mother. “We started to realise that this is a chase and these two whales have attacked this group already,” he said. “It was fascinating but we were horrified too.”

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