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Rare Footage Captures Orca Teaching Its Young to Hunt by Flipping Dolphin High in the Air

Rare Whale Behavior Captured Off San Diego Coast

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In an extraordinary event off the coast of San Diego, a whale-watching expedition recorded a killer whale teaching its calf to hunt. The method involved headbutting a dolphin, causing it to flip several times in the air.


Insight from Wildlife Filmmaker

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Domenic Biagini, a wildlife filmmaker who documented the event, explained that after catching the dolphin, the orcas released it. This act allowed the baby orca to try catching it, showcasing remarkable communication and understanding within the orca family.

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Extended Hunt Duration for Educational Purposes

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Biagini, the founder of Gone Whale Watching, highlighted that the entire hunting episode lasted around 30 minutes, longer than usual. The extended duration was attributed to the orcas engaging in teaching their young effective hunting techniques.


Apex Predator Strategies

Credit: California Killer Whale Project | Facebook

Marine biologist Alisa Schulman-Janiger, co-founder of the California Killer Whale Project, emphasized that orcas, as apex predators, incorporate their size and speed into hunting strategies. This includes slowing down prey to demonstrate hunting techniques to their offspring.


Immense Force of Killer Whales

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Schulman-Janiger pointed out the extraordinary force exerted by killer whales, capable of reaching speeds of 25 miles per hour. This force leads to powerful impacts on prey, such as the dramatic headbutting seen in the captured footage.

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Distinctive Features of a Young Orca

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The footage showcased a young orca with a yellow eye patch, a feature that fades as the orca matures. Schulman-Janiger noted this distinctive coloring, underscoring the youth of the killer whale involved in the hunt.


Rare Appearance of Eastern Tropical Pacific Orcas

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The orcas in the video belong to the Eastern Tropical Pacific Orcas, typically found in Mexico and Central America. Schulman-Janiger highlighted that their appearance in the warm, calm waters of Southern California is a rare occurrence.


Unusual Predation for Local Dolphin Population


Schulman-Janiger explained that the local dolphin population might be less accustomed to killer whales hunting them, given the rarity of Eastern Tropical Pacific Orcas in the area. This rarity adds to the unique nature of the recorded event.

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Normalcy of Gruesome Predation

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Biagini stressed the importance of understanding that such predation is normal and healthy for the ecosystem. Despite its sometimes gruesome nature, it reflects the natural functioning of the marine environment.

Post-Hunt Social Behavior

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Following the hunt, Biagini observed the orcas exhibiting social behavior. This included approaching boats and engaging in spy hopping, a behavior where they poke their heads out of the water to observe their surroundings.

Zig-Zagging Celebratory Behavior


Biagini likened the orcas’ post-hunt behavior to a festive mood. “Think of us on a Thanksgiving feast after we eat, when we’re in a good mood and laughing. That’s what it looks like with the killer whales after they make a hunt,” said Biagini.

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Rise of “Orca Wars” on Social Media

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In recent years, interactions between orcas and human vessels have increased, leading to the term “orca wars” trending on social media. This term describes fictional battles between humans and killer whales, despite no reported human deaths or injuries.

Dangers of Whale Watching Crowds

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Biagini expressed concerns about the dangers posed by whale-watching crowds. During the orca sighting, there were 12 to 15 boats present, emphasizing the need to adhere to Marine Mammal Protection Guidelines to avoid impeding orcas’ hunting behavior.

Ethical Wildlife Filming and Stewardship

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The footage also revealed risky behavior, such as a solo boat operator abandoning the wheel to film a video. Biagini said, “As much as I want to get the shot, the most important part of it is getting them in the most ethical way. We focus on trying to be the stewards for the animals.”

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