GARY SUTTON PHOTO The attack involved an adult male, his mother, and an un-related infant orca.

B.C. Scientists witness first-ever documented killer whale infanticide

“It’s horrifying and fascinating at the same time.”

B.C. Scientists have published a scientific report which details the never-before-seen behaviour of Orcas deliberately killing a baby of their own species.

Jared Towers, Executive Director at North Island Marine Mammal Stewardship Association, along with his colleagues Muirel Muriel Hallé and Gary Sutton witnessed the attack which happened in Johnstone Strait between Port McNeill and Sointula on Dec. 2 2016.

Towers was alerted to strange vocalizations, which were picked up by OrcaLab’s hydrophone station, and was able to locate the whales prior to the attack.

“It’s the world first killer whale infanticide observed and the first time it’s been committed by a male and his mom outside of humans,” said Towers, who explained he and his collegues watched two orcas, an adult male and his mother, kill the infant of another non-related orca.

“It was not the kind of thing you can un-see, the image of the whales killing and passing around the dead baby are engraved in my mind,” said Towers, adding “It’s horrifying and fascinating at the same time.”

Towers explained there is strong evidence to suggest that this behaviour was conducted not only to remove progeny of a competing male from the gene pool but also to force the infant’s mother into a sexually receptive state, which would also provide a mating opportunity for the adult male.

“Sexual conflict such as infanticide drives selection which means it can tell us a lot about why a species or population has evolved the way it has,” said Towers, adding that this incidents demonstrates that, “It’s quite likely that the mating strategies employed by killer whales are different than we previously thought.”

After a year of working on the research regarding the incident, which was published in the journal Nature this week, Towers said he feels good to finally be able to share it with the public and scientific community.

“It’s kind of a dark story and I hate to see dead baby killer whales – they are the cutest animal on the planet,” said Towers, adding “It’s good to share this but is a reminder of how cruel nature can be.”

 

JARED TOWERS PHOTO The adult male with the tail of the baby in his mouth.

JARED TOWERS PHOTO The whales photographed prior to the attack.

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