In the past 62 years, there have been 115 documented interactions between humpback whales and orcas (also known as killer whales), according to a 2016 study published in the journal Marine Mammal Science. Reports have described humpbacks defending animals being attacked by orcas, from seals and sea lions to porpoises and other marine mammals. There was one documented incident in which humpback whales tried to save a pair of ocean sunfish that were being circled by orcas. And in May 2012, in the most dramatic event of this kind, two humpbacks spent six hours fighting off a pod of killer whales intent on eating a gray whale calf they had killed near Monterey Bay, California.
Heroes of the seas?
- “This humpback whale behavior continues to happen in multiple areas throughout the world,” says Alisa Schulman-Janiger of the California Killer Whale Project. “(The 2012 event) remains the longest humpback-to-killer-whale interaction known to date.”
- Orcas are known to attack humpbacks, which are most vulnerable when young. However, once grown, a single humpback whale is large enough to take on an entire pod of killer whales.
- Humpbacks are capable of sophisticated thinking, decision-making, problem-solving, and communication, says Lori Marino, president of the Whale Sanctuary Project.