Orcas Can Kill the Largest Animal on Earth

Scientists for the first time witness an orca pod kill a blue whale
By Kate Seamons,  Newser Staff
Posted Jan 31, 2022 11:40 AM CST
Updated Feb 5, 2022 12:35 PM CST
Orcas Can Kill the Largest Animal on Earth
A pygmy blue whale.   (Getty Images)

It turns out the largest animal on the planet has a predator. Scientists have confirmed that a pod of orcas was able to kill and eat an adult blue whale, and what they observed was a gruesome scene. Per a paper published in Marine Mammal Science, scientists write that three such killings were observed, two in 2019 and one in 2021: the first by scientists off Bremer Bay in Western Australia and the following two by commercial whale-watching boats in the area, reports the New York Times.

It marks the first time orcas had been sighted successfully doing in an adult blue whale versus a calf, though the creature scientists observed being killed was a 70-foot-long pygmy blue whale, a subspecies that is a bit smaller (blue whales can clock in at 110 feet in length). The attacks seen by the whale-watching boats were on a calf and yearling. The National Post and Guardian describe the attack witnessed on March 21, 2019, in which about a dozen orcas—eight females, one male, and juveniles—went after a blue whale. When scientists arrived upon the scene, the whale's dorsal fin had already been bitten off and sections of blubber and skin were missing, allowing them to see the whale's underlying bone.

Some 20 minutes in, the whale, "bleeding profusely," was slowing and swimming in circles. Some orcas then attacked its flank and head, sending the whale underwater. Per the paper, "While it was still alive, an adult female killer whale put its head inside the blue whale’s mouth and began feeding on its tongue." (The Guardian notes the tongue is "nutritionally dense.") It took an hour for the pod to kill the whale; over the next six hours, about 50 orcas came to the scene to eat the creature. (Read more discoveries stories.)

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