By Pete Thomas
When the opportunity presents itself, even critically endangered killer whales may not be able to resist the urge to go for a surf.
Video showing Southern Resident killer whales riding waves generated by a container ship was posted to Facebook last week by The Inertia. (Video posted below.)
The footage, credited to John Porter, was widely viewed and appreciated because it’s not often that killer whales, or orcas, are documented riding waves.
Porter, the ship’s captain who was unaware that his footage had been lifted by The Inertia, said this occurred Aug. 23 as he traversed Boundary Pass near the U.S.-Canada border. The video gained little traction then, but since last week it has been circulating on marine mammal-themed pages.
Heather MacIntyre, a captain and naturalist for Maya’s Legacy Whale Watching, shared the video and wrote on Facebook:
“I was on the other side of this watching the K13s surf the deep sea wake- it was incredible (and also a little terrifying for me to see).”
MacIntyre, who provided the photos that accompany this post, said, “All seven members of the K13 matriline started surfing these waves. They were dangerously close, yet totally aware of their surroundings."
The K13s represent a family group within the Southern Resident K Pod, which totals only 19. The entire Southern Resident population, including the J Pod and L Pod, numbers only 80 animals.
K13, a.k.a Skagit, is a mother and grandmother with four living offspring. All surfed together.
“They maintained a speed of 18 miles-per-hour for about fifteen minutes, a testament to their incredible endurance, which is no doubt the result of masterful evolution,” MacIntyre continued. “Despite the damage that a ship or propeller strike might cause, these large dolphins decided to engage the ship. They broke off from the rest of the Southern Residents and rushed over to the ship.”
Southern Resident killer whales have not recovered from a 10-year period (1967-75) of captures for marine parks and declines in salmon fisheries. Chinook salmon are the main prey item, and a single orca needs between 18-25 salmon per day to maintain energy requirements.
It remains unclear how much energy is spent surfing the wake of a container ship.
–Images are courtesy of Heather MacIntyre and protected by copyright laws