KILLER WHALE ATTACKS ON MINKE WHALES: PREY CAPTURE AND ANTIPREDATOR TACTICS

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Abstract

We describe nine incidents of predation or attempted predation of minke whales (Balaenoptera acutorostrata) by mammal-hunting “transient” killer whales (Orcinus orca) in coastal waters of British Columbia, Washington, and southeastern Alaska. Pursuits of minke whales were characterized by prolonged chases on a straight heading at velocities of 15–30 km/h. In four of the nine cases the adultsized minke whale gradually outdistanced the killer whales, which abandoned the high-speed pursuit after 0.5–1 h. In one case the minke beached itself and died. Four attacks were successful. In one instance a subadult minke was killed in open water following a chase. In two cases the fleeing minke entered a confined bay and was killed by the killer whales. One adult minke was taken after apparently attempting to seek cover beside a large sailboat. Minke whales made no attempt to physically defend themselves and were killed by repeated ramming or by asphyxiation. Although killer whales are capable of sprinting speeds greater than those of minke whales, it appears that adult minkes can maintain higher sustained speeds and evade capture if sufficient space for an extended escape trajectory is available. Successful predation of minke whales in coastal waters is rare compared to pinnipeds and small cetaceans, the main prey of transient killer whales.

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