Why Humpback Whales Protect Other Animals From Killer Whales
It’s possible humpbacks are rescuing seals, sunfish, and other species by mistake, but there’s a chance they have altruistic motivations.
In May 2012, researchers observed a pod of killer whales attacking a gray whale and its calf in Monterey Bay, California. After a struggle, the calf was killed. What happened next defies easy explanation.
Two humpback whales were already on the scene as the killer whales, or orcas, attacked the grays. But after the calf had been killed, about 14 more humpbacks arrived—seemingly to prevent the orcas from eating the calf.
“One specific humpback whale appeared to station itself next to that calf carcass, head pointed toward it, staying within a body length away, loudly vocalizing and tail slashing every time a killer whale came over to feed,” says Alisa Schulman-Janiger, a whale researcher with the California Killer Whale Project.
For six and