New peril for gray whale survival? Predatory orcas spotted in Baja calving lagoon
by Matt DeMello, ABC News
on April 7, 2014 12:00 PM
Last updated at 12:00 p.m. ET
Gray whales are found mainly off the coast of British Columbia, Alaska and Southern California and, in the summer, off the coast of Mexico.
But this summer, a group of killer whales spotted by a scientist working on the Gulf of California has left scientists uncertain about whether they could pose a new threat to an iconic species.
The whales, seen near Mexico’s Baja peninsula, appear to be feeding on the occasional newborn orca.
Citizen science organization Sea Shepherd estimates that the whales can weigh up to 1,500 pounds.
This whale is being fed on the northern side of Mexico’s Baja peninsula.
“We have been tracking every gray whale we can find in Mexico this summer,” Sea Shepherd founder and biologist Paul Watson said. “We’re now seeing a new whale, one that we’re not seeing before, and that is not feeding on baby orca. It’s killing them.”
The marine mammal’s killing behavior has been observed in two other situations as well.
In June 2013, a killer whale was spotted in the Bering Sea, near Russia, chasing an orca calf toward the ice-free waters. The encounter took place just before the animal fatally grabbed a calf.
In late 2013, a pod of killer whales off the coast of British Columbia began feeding on an orca calf.
“They are feeding on the calf they have in the area, but it is not their first feeding opportunity as most are a few weeks old or younger,” Watson said.
In that case, they were probably trying to feed on the calf right after he emerged from the birth canal, he said.
When they first saw the whale the last time, after it was nearly fully grown, the killer whales were likely trying to feed on a calf, he said.
It’s not clear what the relationship is between the two whales, which were spotted off the coast of Baja, Watson said.
Sea Shepherd and its partners hope to learn more about the whales and try to find them a home where they