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Killer whale attack caught on tape

whales April 30, 1998
Web posted at: 3:36 p.m. EDT (1936 GMT)

In this story:

OFF BAJA CALIFORNIA (CNN) -- In marine parks, killer whales seem passive, fascinating us by performing the tricks they've been trained to do. But in the ocean, it becomes obvious how they got their name. On April 11, whale-watchers off Mexico's Baja California coast got a memorable look at an attack considered natural behavior.

A group of orcas, as killer whales also are also known, broke off their play near the excursion boat "Sea Lion" to chase something -- a rare Bryde's (pronounced BREW-dus) whale.

Orca whale attack
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As passengers watched and tour operator Neil Folsom videotaped, the orcas surrounded and tormented the visitor, taking bites out of their larger prey over a 10-minute period.

During the chase, the Bryde's whale swam beneath the bow of the tour boat in a failed attempt to shake off the attackers. Two white spots on the victim's back mark chunks of missing flesh.

The orcas then struck yet again and the Bryde's whale disappeared, its fate unknown.

When the attack ended, the predators resumed their play as birds dove into the water to feed on the big whale's misfortunes.

Normal behavior

Orca whale  

Biologists consider such attacks to be normal behavior for orcas, whose normal diet includes small dolphins, seals, and sea lions.

It is presumed they will attack a larger whale -- in cases like this one -- if the orcas are in large groups. But such attacks are rarely observed and even more rarely captured on videotape.

Bryde's whales, which reach a maximum size of 47 feet (14 meters) and 22 tons, are named after a Norwegian businessman who made it his life's work to kill them.

Extensive hunting lasted through the 1960s and there are probably fewer than 100,000 Bryde's whales in the world.

However, estimates vary widely and the Bryde's whale is not considered endangered.

They live in warmer waters and along coastlines. In the United States, they are rarely seen north of Virginia or Southern California.

Correspondent Sharon Collins contributed to this report.


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