[MARMAM] Into the Kill: A Deeper Look at Bigg's Orcas

jmcinnes at uvic.ca jmcinnes at uvic.ca
Sat Sep 7 10:10:26 PDT 2019

I am pleased to announce the following article in Nature Aware Magazine:
Into the Kill: A Deeper Look at Bigg's Orcas by Josh McInnes. Summer (2019).

I first started investigating the ecology of transient (Bigg’s) killer
whales in the early 2000’s off Southern Vancouver Island, British
Columbia. Having grown up watching these killer whales hunting off the
neighborhood pier, I was primarily interested in the relationship between
the Salish Sea’s top predator and the numerous species of marine mammal
prey they specialize in hunting. Over the years I have spent countless
hours, sitting and observing from a small five meter boat, as groups of
killer whales foraged in kelp beds throughout secluded bays. Often the
transients would circle small islands and reefs, eyeing the seals basking
meters from the water. Over time I began to recognize particular foraging
routes or “trap lines” that the whales would follow, linking multiple seal
haulouts along southern Vancouver Island.
    Predation events on harbor seals were usually successful, and
sometimes lasted only three to five minutes, with little evidence the
hunt had even taken place. These short duration hunts were generally
performed by solitary males. On other occasions, with larger groups,
hunts would last longer with members actively circling, ramming, and
slapping a seal with their flukes. These prolonged harbor seal hunts
were presumably utilized as training exercises for juveniles and new
calves. Once the seal was killed, members would quickly dispatch the
prey by grasping onto it and pulling it apart into pieces, which would
be then shared by all members of a group.
   The efficiency of how killer whales hunt harbor seals was historically
noted by the Tlingit First Nations Peoples in Southeastern Alaska. They
believed through legend that the killer whale was the teacher of all
the uses of the harbor seal. According to one legend, hunters would
call upon the help of killer whales when times were lean. By placing
tobacco leaves in the mouths of killer whales, the whales would in
return provide seals to a hungry community.

You can find a PDF copy at or email me at jmcinnes at uvic.ca:

Josh McInnes, BSc Biology
Research Coordinator
Marine Life Studies
P. O. Box 163
Moss Landing, CA 95039
jmcinnes at uvic.ca

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