In August 2021, scientists recorded a first-of-its-kind event in the animal kingdom. An orca, known as “Sædís,” was spotted swimming alongside a long-finned pilot whale calf in the west of Iceland, and scientists realized she was actually caring for the calf. This is the first time scientists have documented an orca nurturing and taking care of a pilot whale calf.
Pilot whales and orcas typically travel in separate pods, making this an incredibly rare observation. The orca, who has never had a calf of her own, may have adopted the pilot whale calf as a substitute.
Both pilot whales and orcas have close-knit families in the wild, meaning their mother-calf relationships are similar, which could explain the extraordinary behavior.
The orca, swimming in the echelon position, allowed the calf to make fewer tail fluke movements and “carried” the calf by creating a pressure wave with her larger body, allowing the calf to travel more efficiently.
This is a clear indication that the orca was caring for the calf and demonstrates an extraordinary level of caregiving behavior between two species that were previously thought to have little interaction beyond predation events.
The findings of this rare observation were published in the Canadian Journal of Zoology, and it is possible that the two species have displayed similar behaviors before, but this is the first time it has been analyzed by scientists. The observation suggests that the relationship between the two species may be more complex than previously thought.
It is heartening to see examples of cross-species care in the animal kingdom, but we must also remember the importance of protecting these animals and their habitats.
Orcas, in particular, are facing significant threats due to human activities such as pollution, overfishing, and noise pollution. We must take action to protect these incredible animals and their ecosystems.
So, next time you’re out enjoying the beauty of the natural world, take a moment to appreciate the incredible complexity of the animals around you, and consider what you can do to protect them.
Every little action can make a difference, whether it’s reducing your plastic consumption, supporting conservation organizations, or simply spreading awareness of the issues facing our planet. Let’s work together to protect our planet and all its incredible inhabitants.
This article by Nicholas Vincent was first published by OneGreenPlanet on 1 March 2023.
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