LA CONNER, Wash. -- Whale watchers on the La Conner, Wash.-based Mystic Sea caught a rare sight on Sunday as they witnessed a pod of transient Orcas attack a gray whale.
It's common for Orcas to hunt gray whale calves off the California coastline but to attack an adult this far inland is rare. To get footage of it is even rarer, according to marine biologists.
Wendy Hensel from Chilliwack, British Columbia, shot footage of the transient Orcas early Sunday afternoon. She was with a group of recreational whale watchers on the Mystic Sea who were tailing a female gray whale along Saratoga Passage between Camano and Whidbey Islands. Photos: Killer whale attacks
"It's breathtaking," Hensel said, as she watched the sequence again. "It was amazing how fast they were going."
"The captain said a group of Orca whales were coming behind us so watch out," said Noela Graham.
"We could see the Orcas were in a direct line for the gray whale," said Captain Monte Hughes.
Just before 1 p.m. the Orcas got about 100 yards from the gray whale. Then they all submerged, Hughes said.
The video catches the killing: a gray gray whale resurfaces, belly up. It then jerks upward like it's being hit from underwater, sentiment echoed by Howard Garrett, a biologist from the Orca Network who viewed the video. headquartered in Washington State.
Garrett said the Orcas left the gray whale on its belly.
Capt. Hughes said in 20 years he'd never witnessed anything quite like it.
"The whale got jerked back and forth, you know, two or three times. You could definitely tell the Orcas were attacking her, and evidently they had hit her as she was on her way up," he said. "She just laid there a little, then rolled around to about 10 degrees, trying to right herself ... but she was just floundering there in the water."
"Eventually, it rolled back onto its stomach and swam towards the beach, and that was it," said whale watcher Skip Hawk.
Garrett told KGW that the Orca Network had received five reports of killer whale attacks involving gray whales since March, including the one caught on video and another that occurred Monday morning. Until last month Garrett could not recall another confirmed killer whale attack in Puget Sound.
"With (the video attack) it all becomes clear. These all are occurring in the same vicinity, within a 40-mile stretch of water," he said.
Biologists with the National Marine Fisheries Service followed the Orca pod further inland to Penn Cove, where they headed toward another group of gray whales, Garrett added.