Scientists found that humpback whales not only protect their halves from predatory attacks, but they also jump to the rescue of distressed seals risking their own lives in the process.
Recent research shows that humpback whales not only protect smaller marine animals but they also actively search and harass killer whales to bar them from attacking smaller species such as sea lions, seals, and porpoises.
NOAA’s Robert Pitman says he witnessed a rescue mission while he was doing science in Antarctica seven years ago. He recalls that several killer whales pushed a seal form an ice floe into the sea and were about to charge.
But out of the blue two humpbacks jumped to the rescue of the seal. While one humpback kept the predators at bay, the other one created an artificial island from its chest for the seal. Researchers watched how the humpback whale gently pulled the animal back onto its chest whenever the seal was about to slip into the cold water.
“I was shocked. It looked like they were trying to protect the seal,”
the NOAA researcher said.
Next, Pitman asked his fellow researchers whether they had also witnessed similar behaviors. To his surprise, biologists and whale experts said that they did.
The survey was reported this week in Marine Mammal Species.
Study authors gathered accounts on 115 close encounters between humpbacks and killer whales also known as orcas and 38 instances when humpbacks prevented other marine animals from landing on the orcas’ dinner plate.
Yet, humpback whales are not acting alone. When they go on a rescue mission, they do it in groups of at least two. Birds and fishes also mob when they try to discourage predators. The research revealed that in nearly 90 percent of cases, the rescue mission targeted marine animals other than a humpback.
So, it is not just about protecting their young. Humpbacks most of the time get in a scuffle with killer whales to rescue creatures that are not their offspring. And scientists are puzzled.
It is natural for a humpback mother to risk serious injury or its life to save its calf, but rescuing strangers is bizarre from a biological point of view in the animal kingdom. Researchers believe that the recent events are examples of animal empathy, a concept that has been long challenged by the mainstream science.
Image Source: Pixabay