True Killer Whale Stories

J14 introduces her baby – told by Howard Garrett

On December 31, 1994, orcas were seen near Vashon Island. An orange-tinted newborn was among them. Researchers found J pod as they swam north along San Juan Island on January 2, 1995. The 21-year-old female J14 was with her newborn calf, called J30 at first sighting. The calf looked healthy and frisky. Within a few minutes the mother and calf, who were a few hundred yards ahead of the research boat, turned completely around and swam to within a few feet of the idled boat, circled around the boat, and then mother and calf continued on their way. J14 may have been showing her new calf the things he or she would need to know about, including the boat she knew so well.

A gray day in Norway – told by Astrid van Ginneken

It was a dark and gray day when we set out. We soon sighted whales and I cheered as I saw a male push a little orange calf to the surface. It took a few minutes for us to realize that the male was pushing a little dead calf around. It was a sad sight. The orca was accompanied by three other females and a juvenile. They were close together and moved slowly. I felt I was witnessing mourning orcas, sharing the grief over the loss of their little family member. Quietly, we saw the male surface, and at times we saw him push the calf in front of him. The other whales swam at his side. We watched them, hardly moving, to see what happened. The whales started to spyhop around us. They made no clear attempt to leave us. One moment, one of the females spyhopped and she was immediately followed by the male. When he rose up, we saw the little calf slip away from his rostrum and slide back into the water. The whales spyhopped many times and at one instant two females spyhopped simultaneously.
A little later, a few other females joined and the male and the female started to leave the group. The remaining whales made several surfacings and turns in unison, seven whales breaking the surface simultaneously. They formed almost a circle with heads turned inwards. Then after one or two dives, they suddenly lined up again and surfaced in one row. Again the whales came close together and were all directed to something in the center. Suddenly, the little dead baby orca was visible in a flash. Apparently, the whales were around the little calf and taking part in a mutual activity of nudging the baby. We had the feeling we were witnessing something that seemed some sort of ritual. Several hours later, the whales broke up into several smaller groups.

A festival of orcas

In June, 1994, researchers observed a gathering of all three pods of the Southern Resident Community. They socialized in small groups of 5 to 15, spread out over 5-10 square miles of ocean surface. At any one time as many as five or six such groups could be seen. The whales seemed to mix and mingle without regard to pod association. Calves and juveniles joined the adult males and females in rubbing together, slowly slapping the water with every appendage, spyhopping, and pushing each other to the surface. They moved in a slow motion, ballet-like pace.
Groups were not seen to come together at the surface; rather when a group began to appear at the surface, the members were already tightly gathered and engaged in tactile behaviors. When at the surface, there was usually a rush of ten or more shallow blows per whale over the course of 2-3 minutes, then the group would sink and in many cases not reappear as a group. Individuals, or small groups such as mothers and calves were sometimes seen travelling from group to group, always eventually merging together into newly formed associations. They vocalized incessantly in unusual whistles, squeaks and honks.
This tactile play was observed on several occasions in mid-June, and has been observed in spring and fall in previous years.

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