by Kathy James

Killer Whale Vs Minke Whale

Hiya,

sorry to keep warbling on about Frozen Planet, but it really is amazing! Without going in to too much detail about last night’s programme (I know you haven’t seen it yet Ken!) there was an amazing sequence of a pod of Killer Whales hunting a Minke whale.

With Whale-watching right up there at the top of my to-do list, I was over the moon this September when a Minke surfaced behind the Scillonian III on my sailing back from the Isles of Scilly. I had seen a Sooty Shearwater tilting it’s way across the top of the waves about halfway back to the mainland, which was particularly special to me because I had so far always missed them passing South Stack. I caught sight of several Storm Petrels heading across the sea as I Iooked southwards from the boat and from this vantage point saw several dolphins surfacing alongside the boat (I’m not knowledgeable enough and wasn’t fast enough to tell you what kind!). Later on I chatted with birders returning from their Scilly pilgrimage about various “twitches” they’d been on. Mid-way through one of these conversations I saw the giant from the deep break the surface and saw the whole of it’s back and tiny dorsal fin pass in front of my eyes. I couldn’t restrain myself. “MINKE WHALE!!” came cannoning out of my mouth and everyone on deck turned to see the beauty surface a second time and even a third. It was an incredible experience I will always remember it.

Ken (my best-bud birder friend) has also had a” whale” of a time this year, not only spotting a Minke on his return sailing from the Isles of Scilly to Penzance (just a week or so before me) but also sighting a six-strong pod of Killer Whales from the Range part of the South Stack reserve back in August! I know Ken was over-the-moon after his Killer Whale sighting and why not?! Ken watched for 20 minutes as the family travelled northwards up the Irish Sea. Once in a lifetime hey?

Killer Whales are more preferably called Orca, I just like the sound of ‘the killer whale’ and from Attenborough’s latest descriptions it seems very apt. Ken’s pod are not a regular occurrence off the Anglesey coast, the few sightings reported in the Irish Sea are from the South-Wales coast. According to collaborative research from UK and Danish universities, there are two types of Orca to be found in UK waters. Both types of Orca have featured on the BBC’s Frozen Planet; one that eats fish and the other that predates other mammals. The study would suggest that Ken’s pod are in the vicinity of the fish-feeding Orcas, however the mammal-eating variety are generally found as close-by as the west coasts of Ireland and Scotland so who knows?! The diet of the Minke more resembles that of the fish-eating Orca, consuming fish, crustaceans and plankton depending on availability and location.

I’m not actually going to pit these magnificent creatures against one another…but just for now I’m more than happy with my sighting and happy to avoid finding out which feeding style the Orca’s that passed so close-by us!

Ciao for now,

Kathy x

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2 responses

  1. Oddly enough that was my reaction when seeing my first Minke, followed by jumping up and down and running outside (leaving my camera in the wheel house in the process).

    November 12, 2011 at 3:08 pm

  2. Kate Jones

    When I was in Canada a few years ago, I went on a great Orca-watching trip near Port Hardy, Vancouver Island. They have a resident pod of fish-hunting orca, which have been studied for years – we saw harbour porpoises actually following the orca, not worried by them at all. In addition, there’s a migratory pod of seal-hunting orca. The guide told me the two groups never mix, or communicate with each other. He said they ‘speak different languages’.
    Great blog, by the way Kathy!

    November 18, 2011 at 12:10 pm

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