In March 2021, whale-watchers off the coast of Australia witnessed a brutal, systematic hunt when as many as 70 orcas killed and consumed a blue whale.
The whale, either a juvenile blue whale (Balaenoptera musculus) or a pygmy blue whale (Balaenoptera musculus brevicauda), was twice the length of the largest orcas, but it didn’t stand a chance. Over the course of hours, multiple pods of orcas harried and jostled the whale. The orcas worked together to create surges of chaotic waves with their bodies, then surrounded the blue whale, biting at its jaw and mouth.
The blue whale fought valiantly, according to marine biologist Kristy Brown of Naturaliste Charters in western Australia. But it was overpowered.
“A bubble of blood rose to the surface like a bursting red balloon,” Brown wrote. All that was left was to divide up the spoils.
Killer whales sometimes seem to play with their food, much like curious cats. But in September 2018, Nicolás Dávalos, a photographer and marine biology student in Ecuador, was diving near the Galápagos Islands when he caught something on film that had never been seen before.
A pod of killer whales was tormenting sea turtles, spinning the hapless creatures around, grabbing them and swimming away with them “like a dog with a bone,” Dávalos said.
“Killer whales will at times play with potential prey for a half hour or more, and then just move on, leaving the victim unharmed,” Robert Pitman, a marine ecologist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Southwest Fisheries Science Center, told National Geographic. “Other times, they will chase prey around and kill it but not eat it. They’re like cats in that way — can’t resist the urge I guess.”