The video is extraordinary. In waters near the Antarctic peninsula, an enormous humpback whale floats on its back, cradling a Weddell seal on its chest and elevating it above the ocean surface. Just moments earlier, the seal was perilously close to becoming dinner for a hungry killer whale.
Marine biologist Robert Pitman captured the incredible video while on a research expedition in 2009, but it wasn’t the first time he had observed this unusual protective behavior.
Pitman said: “This is just another example presenting humpback whales as unlikely marine vigilantes, facing up predatory killer whales that try to attack other species.”
Killer whales are silent and stealthy when stalking their prey, but become highly vocal once they attack. Humpbacks could recognize this sound from orca attacks on their own young, and respond even when they don’t know what species the killer whale is targeting.
A recent investigation found that large and powerful humpback whales will band together and sometimes travel great distances to interrupt and terminate a killer whale attack, regardless of what type of animal the orca is attacking.
The video is low quality, but the moment captured at the 0:17 mark is simply extraordinary.
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