Last week a story involving killer whales trapped by sea ice in Canada's Hudson Bay was said to have a miraculous ending because the ice broke apart just in time to allow the weary mammals to swim to freedom.
This week an incredible survival story involves a baby gray whale that fell under assault by two killer whales off Southern California.
(Editor's note: This post also appears on the GrindTv.com Outdoor blog)
The calf is alive because of its mother, which ferociously defended her newborn in front of awed spectators. The spectacle, which occurred Tuesday in waters bordering the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary, was witnessed by passengers aboard the Ranger 85 out of Channel Islands Whale Watching in Oxnard, Calif.
"Today was one of those days that you will never forget," the company stated on its Facebook page. "As we traveled through the waters surrounding the park, we witnessed survival in the wild first-hand."
The gray whales were fortunate that there were only two young transient killer whales, or orcas, involved in the attack. The oldest is a male about 13 years old, and its sibling, of undetermined sex, is about 7.
Transient killer whales prey predominantly on marine mammals and will often target gray whale calves during the northbound migration from Baja California nursing grounds to Arctic home waters, after the calves have spent a few months fattening up.
So this 20- to 30-minute assault, during the southbound migration on a gray whale that appears to be only a few days old, was extremely rare.
Alisa Schulman-Janiger, who has photo-cataloged many transients as part of the California Killer Whale Project, said the mother (CA49) was an accomplished gray whale calf killer who was last seen alive last spring. The offspring are CA49B and CA49C.
The researcher said that typically, a reproductive female will lead a coordinated attack that involves several killer whales, some with specific roles, such as separating, drowning and ramming.
On Wednesday the gray whale mother, perhaps having experienced this during a previous migration, aggressively thwarted the killer whales' attempts to single out the calf, although at one point they managed to separate the calf very briefly before giving up and swimming away.
"The mother frantically tried to protect her calf from the marauding pair, and ultimately did so successfully," the whale-watching company stated. "Had there been the rest of the pod around, the little calf may not have been so lucky. Survival of the fittest, and this little calf learned a few more skills today."