Orca whale attacks on humpback whales have increased in recent years as one in five baby whales has been bitten, the Panama-based Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI) said Tuesday.
“The scars that have been observed mainly on the tails of humpback whales are, in many cases, the result of encounters with killer whales, also known as Orca whales,” the STRI said in a statement. According to this entity, a recent study published in the scientific journal Endangered Species Research presents the analysis of scars in more than 3,000 tails of humpback whales. The report’s results “indicate that attacks on these giants may be increasing.
Of the group studied, 11.5% of adult whales and 19.5% of baby humpback whales showed scars from killer whale bites. Orca whales can feed on more than 20 different species of fish, seabirds, and cetaceans, including sea lions and fur seals. The researchers concluded that young animals “are the killer whale’s preferred target,” as the STRI said.
Killer Whale Attacks on Pacific Humpback Whales and Their Baby Whales
Scientists believe killer whales primarily attack offspring of humpback whales during the breeding season in the tropics and during their first migration.
“We believe killer whale attacks on humpback whales may be more common now,” said Juan Capella, author and marine biologist for the scientific organization Whalesound in Chile. That increase could be due “to the recovery of breeding populations in the Southeastern Pacific after the ban on hunting these whales,” as Capella added.
The team of scientists studied photos of whales collected since 1985 in tropical regions and shallow breeding areas of the Pearl Archipelago in Panama, Gorgona Island and Malaga Bay in Colombia, and Salinas and Machalilla in Ecuador. Feeding areas in the cold waters of the Strait of Magellan in Chile and the Strait of Gerlach in the western Antarctic Peninsula were also studied.
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