Its sheer size apparently isn’t enough to save a blue whale from becoming dinner for a hungry pod of orcas (aka killer whales).
In a paper published last week in the journal Marine Mammal Science, researchers shared “the first documentation of killer whales killing and eating blue whales: two individuals killed, 16 days apart in 2019, and a third in 2021.”
In the past, there have been reports of orcas chasing blue whales, but this the first official scientific record of orcas successfully hunting, killing and eating them, according to The Guardian.
The incidents all happened in Australia’s Bremer Bay, where female-led orca groups worked together to take down their large prey.
In two of the three cases, the blue whales — which are the largest animals on Earth — weren’t fully grown: one was a young calf and one was a juvenile around a year old. But the third blue whale the orcas ate was a healthy adult between 60 and 70 feet long, more than twice the size of the largest orcas, which only get to be about 30 feet, according to National Geographic.
“When we arrived about 14 killer whales were attacking the blue in [230-ft deep] waters, with the female killer whales leading the attack,” Isabella Reeves, a PhD candidate at Australia’s Flinders University and one of the study’s authors, told New Atlas.
That attack involved some of the orcas repeatedly slamming into the blue whale and biting off chunks of its flesh, while others went for its head and still another took the liberty of going for the tongue ― a nutrient-dense organ that orcas apparently love. Ultimately, about 50 orcas joined in the smorgasbord.
While you may have trouble convincing a blue whale of this, the researchers believe that the orca attacks may actually be a positive sign overall, indicating that blue whale numbers are rebounding after being driven to near-extinction by the whaling industry in the early 20th century.
“Maybe what we’re starting to see now is how the ocean used to be before we took out most of the large whales,” Robert Pitman, an ecologist at Oregon State University and another of the study’s authors, told The Guardian. “As some of these populations continue to recover, we have a better chance to see how normal marine ecosystems function.”
In the meantime, orcas aren’t the only animals enjoying the feast, Gizmodo reported. In the case of the adult whale, the carcass also became a buffet for sharks and scavenging seabirds.