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Extremely off-topic Sperm Whale follow-up
Sorry for *extreme* off-topicality of this but I carried on an offlist
correspondance with several people concerning Orca predation on Giant
Sperm Whales a few weeks back and several people were, shall we say,
skeptical. I've lost my correspondance and apologize for dumping this
piece of off-topicality on all. Please don't start a thread on this!
I'm attaching a news story that gives more details about a rare human
observation of one of these feeding events, this time on a group of
adult females (the theory has it that alpha bulls just dive, or fight
back; I assume diving is the wiser choice: as Soviet generals were fond
of saying, quantity has a quality all its own).
All rights reserved -- reprinted for fair use purposes only; poster not
associated with the administrators or owners of this list:
Copyright 1997 The New York Times Company
The New York Times
November 9, 1997, Sunday, Late Edition - Final
SECTION: Section 1; Page 26; Column 3; National Desk
LENGTH: 446 words
HEADLINE: Scientists Report Rare Attack by Killer Whales on Sperm Whales
DATELINE: SAN DIEGO, Nov. 8
A group of scientists from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric
Administration has witnessed a rare attack that confirmed why killer
whales were long ago given their name.
Last month, researchers on the ship David Starr Jordan saw a group of
nine adult sperm whales brutally attacked by a pod of about 25 killer
whales 60 miles off the central California coast, the National Marine
Fisheries Service reported on Thursday.
During the five-hour attack, one adult sperm whale was killed and
eaten while several others were bloodied, officials said.
"Never, in eight years of sea duty, have I seen anything like this,"
Lieut. Comdr. Tim Clancy said.
The ship was on a research cruise on Oct. 21, watching the behavior
and social groupings of the sperm whale, when the attack began.
"Although rarely witnessed, killer whales have been seen attacking
small sperm whale calves, but never attacking and killing adults," said
Susan Chivers of the fisheries service's Southwest Fisheries Science
Center and the chief scientist on the cruise.
Ms. Chivers said the sperm whales went into a defensive posture that
had been reported only by whalers long ago.
The sperm whales formed a rosette pattern, with their heads pointing
inward in a hub as they tried to use their flukes for defense. But in
this case, Ms. Chivers said, that was not very effective. The killer
whales repeatedly rushed the group, submerging to attack from beneath
just before they hit the sperm whales.
Killer whales can swim up to 25 miles an hour, scientists said, while
a sperm whale's top speed is 6 miles an hour. Sperm whales, which have
square heads and are generally blue-gray or black, can grow to about 60
feet long. Killer whales, often called orcas, are typically black and
white or dark gray and grow to 30 feet.
Scientists are curious about the attack, because sperm whales can
dive to about 4,000 feet for more than an hour. Their calves, however,
can dive for only about 20 minutes. A trained killer whale can dive only
to 850 feet, and the longest recorded dive has been 17 minutes.
The scientists with the fisheries science center said only six killer
whale attacks on sperm whales had ever been officially recorded.
But scientists said killer whales had killed nearly every other type
of large whale, including the adult blue whale, which weighs about 100
The scientists said they saw no injuries on the killer whales after
the attacks last month. When the killer whales moved a safe distance
away, the sperm whales retreated at a steady, high speed for the
remainder of the afternoon. The scientists said they were unable to
track them because of their unusual silence.
LOAD-DATE: November 9, 1997
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