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Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Amazing Video of Killer Whales hunting Seals

Off Argentina and the Crozet Islands, Orcas feed on South American sea lion and elephant seal pups in shallow water; even beaching themselves temporarily. Beaching, usually fatal to whales, is not an instinctive behaviour. Adult Orcas have been observed to teach the younger whales the skills of hunting in shallow water. Off Argentina, adults pull seals off the shoreline for younger whales to recapture. Off the Crozet Islands, mothers have been seen pushing their calves onto the beach, waiting to pull the youngster back if needed.

Another technique for capturing seals is known as wave-hunting: Orcas spy-hop to locate seals resting on ice floes, and then create waves by swimming together in groups to wash over the floe. This causes the seal to be thrown into the water where another Orca waits to kill it. This behaviour has only been recorded a few times and it is not known how often it occurs. The most recent recorded instance in April 2006 ended with the group of Orcas actually returning the seal to the ice floe after they had shown the younger animals how to properly perform the technique.

In Prince William Sound, killer whales feed primarily on Dall's porpoise and harbor seals. When hunting seals, the whales separate and slide along shorelines or through tight, rock-strewn channels. They also forage near tidewater glaciers in search of seals that haul out on the ice floes in late spring. In open water, where Dall's porpoise are found, the whales of this region spread out across a passage, breathing quietly, milling at the surface, silently awaiting prey. The whales of this region do not eat fish.

Killer whales off New Zealand toss venomous stingrays back and forth with their teeth. As reported in the New Scientist, a whale will pluck a ray off the ocean floor. When the whale resurfaces, the ray is still alive, flapping in the whale's mouth. What happens next can best be described as a marine version of a game of frisbee: one whale tosses the ray to a second, which then either tosses the ray back or forwards it to a third. Researchers believe the action is an attempt to position the ray so that it can be eaten safely. Another possibility is that tossing stingrays is one way adult killer whales teach their offspring to catch dangerous prey.

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