WATCH: Epic battle of the titans in the waters off Vancouver Island as transient killer whales attack humpback whales. Tess van Straaten reports.
Captain Mark Malleson takes out a group of whale watchers Wednesday afternoon but the exciting adventure likely won’t top what he witnessed on Sunday.
The Prince of Whales captain, who’s also a researcher for Fisheries and Oceans Canada, watched an epic tussle — a battle of the titans — as transient Bigg’s killer whales attacked humpback whales off the coast of Vancouver Island near Jordan River.
“They’re the top predator of the ocean and they can be bullies,” explains Capt. Malleson. “They’ll sometimes torment their prey.”
Malleson and boats from Sooke Whale Watching and Eagle Wing Tours watched as the marine mammal-eating transient killer whales took on two much larger adult humpbacks and a calf.
“I almost feel like I should say, are you ready to rumble?” jokes Michael Harris of the Pacific Whale Watch Association. “This is the heavy-weight division and we were very fortunate to witness it because it’s the trials of life and we got a ringside seat.”
Whale experts and tourists captured extraordinary shots as the humpbacks huffed and puffed — and both species smacked their tails on the water — in a show of strength as each side fought for dominance.
“I’ve been here for 30+ years and I’ve never seen anything like this in the Salish Sea,” Harris says. “It happens, though, but it happens out in the open ocean. They’re called killer whales because the whalers called them ‘whale killers’ — these are not our docile, fish-eating resident orcas.”
Killer whales usually target grey whale calves
Bigg’s killer whales often target the calves of giant grey whale as they make their pilgrimage up the coast.
But with a record number of humpbacks here, experts aren’t surprised the transients would go after juvenile humpbacks the Salish Sea.
“It’s the humpback comeback, more than any of us have seen in our lifetime, along with more transient Bigg’s killer whales than any of us have ever seen in our lifetime and we’re having a battle for the kingdom.”
In this case, size won out, with other humpbacks in the area coming to the rescue and forcing the transients to retreat.
It’s another remarkable encounter in what’s been an extraordinary year in the Salish Sea and experts say we can expect to see more of these epic battles.