Most parents scold their children for playing with their food at the Thanksgiving dinner table. But things work differently for sea creatures — as a recent encounter with killer whales in Monterey Bay attests.
A group of whale watchers got front-row seats to a pod of Bigg’s killer whales hunting its Thanksgiving meal, then practicing hunting tactics on its prey, according to a Nov. 24 Facebook post from Monterey Bay Whale Watch.
“Led by matriarch CA51A Aurora, the pod spent over an hour hunting sea lions in the area,” the post said. “Only a few minutes into the encounter we saw one individual punt a sea lion almost 20 feet in the air!”
A video shows an orca swimming beneath a sea lion and launching it into the air with its tail.
The “wild and free” pod, known as “Aurora’s Pod,” was hunting in part to give the young females in their pod practice and to teach the pod’s months-old calf how to hunt prey, the agency said in another post. The “very special encounter” is only the second time the new calf has been spotted.
“We were able to witness one of the most intense raw acts of nature,” the post said.
Experts from the agency said the “notoriously friendly pod” was practicing “hunting techniques” before coming close to the boat and sharing its prey.
“Once they successful killed a sea lion, the members of the pod took turns displaying attack maneuvers and behaviors to further instruct their newest pod member on how to hunt,” the agency said. “While it is hard to watch them hunt in this way, it is important to the survival of the pod.”
Bigg’s killer whales are the “most frequently seen” type of orca in Monterey Bay, according to the California Killer Whale Project. They are “relatively unpredictable” and inhabit a wide area, ranging from Southern California to Southeast Alaska. Researchers are aware of several different matriarchal pods of Bigg’s whales off the California coast.
The creatures feed “almost exclusively” on mammals, but they can also eat seabirds and squid, experts with the project said. They typically travel in groups of two to seven.
Bigg’s killer whales are seen at all times of year, but they are most often spotted in the spring, according to the project. They also come to the bay during the fall to feed.