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Humpbacks vs. orcas: Intense whale chase caught on camera

The encounter lasted for about an hour.

A group of people witnessed three humpback whales chase a pod of orcas in the Salish Sea on the weekend.

Tobin Sparling was working as a naturalist on the Prince of Whales whale-watching boat Sunday afternoon when the splashing started by Halibut Bank in the Strait of Georgia. 

“It was amazing,” he says. “That was the first time I’ve actually seen them interact. It was crazy."

He took out his camera to start identifying the whales and spotted seven orcas and at least three humpbacks. Sparling says the humpbacks were doing subtle splashes under the surface and were trumpeting, a noise that happens when they are stressed or trying to communicate. 

“This was humpbacks and orcas chasing each other and there was a lot of whales all so close to each other,” he says. “Everywhere you looked there were whales splashing and orcas jumping.”

The captain decided to shut the engine off to not disturb the animals. 

Sparling says the whales chased each other for about an hour. 

“The orcas are like, ‘OK, let's come back this way,' and then the humpbacks would charge from that way. There was a lot of tail slapping,” he recalls. 

Having the two groups interacting this way is not common, but it does happen a few times a year.

Erin Gless, executive director of the Pacific Whale Watch Association, says Bigg’s killer whales are a natural predator of humpback whales and they do usually avoid each other.

“We do sometimes see them interact when they're in the same place at the same time,” she tells Glacier Media.

She believes the whales were exchanging words and it might have been the humpbacks defending their turf. 

“It actually looks like the humpback is the one pursuing the killer whales, trying to run them out of the area,” says Gless. 

She adds that they sometimes see them interfering with killer whale hunts, putting themselves between the killer whales and the seal or sea lion being chased.

It did not appear that any young calves were in the encounter. The mammal groups eventually went their separate ways, said Sparling.

“We’ve seen a lot of the whales since and I don’t think any of the whales actually got hurt,” he said.