Attack of the passing predator
Feeding habits of transient orca pod observed in Juneau waters this week
Source: Abby Lowell, Juneau Empire
Residents of Fritz Cove got quite the show Sunday as a pod of transient killer whales pursued and killed a harbor porpoise.
Then, yesterday, near the Shrine of Saint Therese, tourists and locals in the area witnessed what may have been the same pod chasing a bull sea lion.
Alan Corbett, a local Juneau resident, photographed the action in Fritz Cove. He also witnessed, but did not photograph, the action near the Shrine.
His pictures show the hulking black body of an orca leaping skyward in pursuit of the smaller harbor porpoise.
The scene, he said, was a bit grim, as the harsh reality of transient killer whale life unfolded before him; they were, after all, living up to their common moniker.
“I was shocked,” he said. “I’ve lived in Juneau for about eight years ... and have done a lot of wildlife photography, but I’ve never seen this.”
It’s fair to say few have. But his photography skills kicked in and the shutter began to snap.
The images are captivating, even for people like Marilyn Dahlheim, a biologist with the National Marine Mammal Laboratory, a subsidiary of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, who has spent more than a decade studying orcas. She said photographs like the ones Corbett made are rare, but the behavior of the whales is absolutely not.
“These are expert hunters,” she said. “It’s not unusual for them to take a porpoise. (In fact,) we see it quite a bit.”
The diet of the transient orca varies, she said. These whales have been observed preying on Dall’s porpoises, Pacific white-sided dolphins, minke whales, Steller sea lions, harbor seals, seabirds, moose, deer and, of course, harbor porpoises..
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In the Pacific Northwest, three ecotypes of orcas have been identified: Offshores, Transients and Residents. The diet of the Resident orca is fish, predominately salmon. To learn more about the endangered Souithern Resident orcas, click here.