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Orcas at rubbing beach

Orcas love a beach massage!

Orcas at rubbing beach

Orca families visit their favourite beaches for a good belly rub and body massage.  Thanks to remote underwater cameras (fixed near the beaches) we can see plenty of rubbing action and hear the orcas chatting away to one another as they enjoy rubbing time.

Each orca releases giant air bubbles from their blowhole as they empty their lungs and sink to the seabed. Then the rubbing begins - they roll around and glide along the bottom, sometimes upside down, massaging their bodies and fins on the cool pebbles – it must feel wonderful!

WDC adoption orcas Fife, Bend, Holly and Simoom are members of the Northern Resident orca community in Canada. During the summer, orca families gather in Johnstone Strait, close to OrcaLab, to hunt migrating salmon and socialise.  They also visit their traditional and sacred ‘rubbing’ beaches and take turns to rub their bellies, backs, flippers and fins over smooth pebbles on the seabed. It’s a cultural tradition passed down from one generation to the next.

Each rubbing beach has plenty of smooth pebbles on the seabed which provide a perfect body massage. Sometimes families go for a rub several times a day. We think that beach rubbing helps orcas strengthen their bonds and commitment to one another. They are often noisy when rubbing – squealing and calling out.  Everyone takes turns rubbing before they leave together, swimming calmly away until next time.

About Alison Wood

Ali is WDC's Head of education. She also edits our children's magazine, Splash. She previously spent many years coordinating our research and conservation projects around the world. Her favourite species are river dolphins.