WATCH: A shocking first-ever encounter with orcas that was caught on camera near Alert Bay has whale researchers rethinking what they know about transient killer whales.What happened is making waves worldwide, a transient killing another whale’s calf. The scientific journal Nature published the alarming experience Tuesday.
Whale-watching guide Gary Sutton will never forget what he witnessed during a once-in-a-lifetime encounter off Alert Bay that's a first anywhere in the world.
"I still get shaky thinking about it," said Sutton from Ocean EcoVentures Whale Watching in Cowichan Bay. "Because it was just one of those moments that you'll just never forget."
Sutton was with his friend and killer whale researcher Jared Towers last winter when a massive splash followed eerie underwater recordings of orcas in distress. Then they witnessed a transient orca calf surface alongside its mother swimming away from pursuing transients.
"And we thought this is a little weird something is going on," said researcher Towers.
"And we looked over the side And T68A, who is the large male, swam by the boat and we could see the calf in his mouth," Sutton.
They realized then they were witnessing the first-ever recorded case of orca infanticide, as the large male orca clearly worked with his mother who was no longer producing offspring to kill the calf. Towers and fellow researchers submit it was for sexual selection so that the male could then breed with the calf-less female who be put into estrus. Then he and his mother genes could be carried on.
"And what you can learn from a species that behaves like this, your perception of the species just changes, " said Towers.
Especially since the whales didn't eat the baby but instead passed it between mother and son, almost Towers says like a prize, as the calf's mother rammed the large male trying to save her offspring.
"It was a clash of the giants," Sutton said, adding that the calf's mother would not let the calf go without a fight.
John Ford has been researching killer whales for 40 years and was shocked to hear what had been recorded.
"With this recent case of infanticide it just shows that we don't know it all," said the retired Fisheries and Oceans Canada Researcher