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Killer Whale in the Pacific Northwest

Walruses are no match for killer whales in hot pursuit

Walruses don’t have many predators, but killer whales are among them. In 2006, Alaska Fish and Game staff Diane and Brian Okonek had a rare opportunity to witness a dramatic killer whale and walrus event in the waters just off Round Island, home of the explore.org Walrus Cam. Diane recounts what happened:

“We were out early on a windy day doing surveys when we noticed over 40 walruses rushing to shore. We immediately saw a group of eight killer whales of mixed age moving north along the shore. The whales divided out a group of 3 walruses (see photo below). They pursued these 3 to about 1/4 mile offshore and began circling them.

Killer whales pursue walruses

Killer whales pursue walruses

As the killer whales circled, the walruses inflated their pharyngeal sacks (a sort of air bladder behind their shoulders) and huddled together. They managed to stay in a tight huddle throughout the event. The largest male whale circled at a distance while the rest of the whales began tail-slapping the walruses from above and below, sometimes lifting the walruses up in the water. Perhaps they were head-butting them from below but, of course, we couldn’t document this.

This activity continued for 20 minutes with an almost continual beating of the walruses by one killer whale or another. The whales eventually drifted away and the walruses disappeared in the whitecaps. Because of the limited visibility from the swell, we could not document if there had been a kill. A week later, a dead walrus came to shore, and its body was covered in bruises. But there was no way for us to verify whether this dead walrus was associated with the event.”

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