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Did orcas help rescue entangled humpback whale?

Whale Watchers in western Australia filmed a remarkable interaction between a pod of orcas and a humpback whale.  The humpback’s tail was entangled in some fishing rope and he was forced to drag it along as he swam. The whale watchers are sure that the orcas freed the humpback from the fishing rope.

Orcas are very intelligent and curious. The matriarch of this particular pod is known as Queen, both she and two males - Blade and Hookfin, approached the tangled humpback whale to investigate. They swam very close to the humpback and underneath him. The frightened humpback lashed out with his powerful flippers and tail.  When the water cleared, there was a large chunk of the fishing rope freed from the humpback and now floating away. The orcas swam off allowing the humpback to escape safely.

It is hard to know for sure if the orcas did remove the rope to help the struggling humpback but it certainly seems to be the case. We don’t know why the orcas didn’t attack this vulnerable whale as orcas living here do hunt marine mammals including humpbacks. It could be that the orcas had just eaten or that they prefer alternative prey at this time of year. However, the whale watchers who witnessed this interaction believe the orcas simply acted out of kindness and compassion for the struggling humpback whale.

Queen, Blade and Hookfin were spotted later on the same day harassing a large sunfish.

Orca with humpback whale
Orca with humpback whale in Australia. Photo: Whale Watch Western Australia

About Alison Wood

Ali is WDC's Education coordinator. 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.

1 Comment

  1. Fiona Telling on 20th August 2022 at 6:02 pm

    How very kind and caring of the orcas to show compassion for the humpback. Very noble of them . What a heart warming story .

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