On June 24th, a group of researchers from the Icelandic Orca Project was conducting a survey on local wild orca populations off the coast of Iceland when they spotted an unusual sight among one orca pod-a pilot whale calf.
According to the Icelandic Orca Project’s Facebook page, the team studied a well-known local orca pod for a few hours when they spotted what appeared to be a newborn pilot whale calf. There were reports of pilot whale pods in the area on that day, which led the researchers to wonder how the calf ended up with the pod. This is an unusual sight because out in the wild, orcas and pilot whales act antagonistically towards each other, with the latter chasing orca pods away.
“Our team went out yesterday and found a group of playful orcas and studied them for a few hours. It was a group we know well, but to our absolute astonishment amongst the orcas appeared to be a newborn pilot whale. There were no observations of pilot whales in the area the whole day. Where did this baby come from? We have so many questions! This adds a whole other layer of complexity to the study of interactions between pilot whales and killer whales. Absolutely incredible”.
—-Icelandic Orca Project, Via, Facebook.
While the group has seen interactions between orcas and pilot whales in Icelandic waters over the years, many involve the animals displaying mob-like behaviors towards the orcas that sometimes turn into high-speed chases that end in the orcas leaving the area.
However, this is not the first time researchers spotted an orca pod adopting a pilot whale calf. In August 2021, the group watched this phenomenon occur. Yet, no one really knows why Icelandic orcas adopt pilot whale calves but they know one thing-pilot whales and orcas have similar social structures. Both cetacean societies see females help in raising the calves of other animals in their pod. If calves are to be separated or abandoned, they could not survive on their own. Yet, because orcas have empathy, it’s likely the fish-eating mammals adopted the calf after empathizing with them.
About Icelandic Orca Project
Founded in 2007, The Icelandic Orca Project aims to learn more about Iceland’s wild orca population and its role in the country’s marine ecosystem. They’re dedicated to following local wild orca pods and understanding more about their behavior, family history, and the threats the mammals continue to face in this ever-changing climate.
They hope to understand the fundamental aspects of their lives, such as pod structures, matrilines, diet structures, and migration patterns. They use a variety of research techniques, such as acoustic recordings, photo identification, tagging with suction cups, biopsy samplings, and underwater observation of orca interactions, like with their prey.
Their recent studies on this population have shown that these local mammals form societies that are more fluid than previously thought. The animals have distinct movement patterns and feeding preferences that are not socially segregated. They’ve also discovered they produced unique vocalizations that have not been recorded on any other orca population.
The two sightings of orca pods adopting pilot whale calves as their own are just examples of what the group continues to learn more about in understanding the role orcas play in Icelandic waters.
You can support their efforts to learn more about the orcas by either making a donation or purchasing some orca goodies from their online gift shop.
A big thanks to the non-profit for letting me share this incredible story as proof we have so much left to learn about the ecosystems of our oceans.
“Nature is painting for us, day after day, pictures of infinite beauty.”
About the Creator
Zoo and Aquarium Professional, Educator, Cosplayer, Writer and B.A. in Psychology whose got a lot to share when it comes to animals, zoos, aquariums, conservation, and more.
Excellent work. Looking forward to reading more!
Original narrative & well developed characters
Expert insights and opinions
Arguments were carefully researched and presented
Niche topic & fresh perspectives
Heartfelt and relatable
The story invoked strong personal emotions
On-point and relevant
Writing reflected the title & theme