When An Orca Wants To Eat A Whale’s Tongue

As apex predators, orcas (or ᴋɪʟʟer whale) can basically feed on whichever marine animal they want, but biologists weren’t entirely sure if these aquatic ᴋɪʟʟers feast on the biggest of them all: blue whales. The orcas, mostly females, ɑттɑᴄᴋed the blue whales in coordinated ɑттɑᴄᴋs and feasted upon their gigantic tongues.

About Kɪʟʟer Whale

Orcas (or ᴋɪʟʟer whale)

Kɪʟʟer whales are the biggest members of the dolphin family. They are easy to recognize due to their black back and white underside. Orca is another name for them. These animals are carnivores eating a Ԁɪᴇt of fish and seals and are considered apex predators. An adult Kɪʟʟer Whale eats up to 300 pounds of food each day. They can adapt to both cold and warm water habitats.

Orcas ɑттɑᴄᴋ on blue whale

The orcas severed the adult blue whale’s dorsal fin.

The first of the observed ɑттɑᴄᴋs happened on March 16, 2019. An apparently healthy adult blue whale measuring between 18 and 22 meters long was ɑттɑᴄᴋed by a dozen orcas consisting of eight adult females, one adult male, and some younger members who watched from the sidelines. The scientists’ account of the ɑттɑᴄᴋ is nothing short of a horror show:

The orcas bit off chunks of skin and blubber from the blue whale.

After approximately 20 min of continuous ɑттɑᴄᴋs by the ᴋɪʟʟer whales, the blue whale slowed and began swimming in a circle with a radius of about 200 m [656 feet]. By 09:20, large chunks of skin and blubber had been stripped off the whale’s flanks behind the dorsal fin; it was bleeding profusely and appeared to be weakening as it continued to reduce its swim speed. A few minutes later, three adult female ᴋɪʟʟer whales lined up, side-by-side, perpendicular to the blue whale, and rammed headlong in its flank, pushing it through the water and then forcing it under. At the same time, two other ᴋɪʟʟer whales were ɑттɑᴄᴋing the blue whale’s head, and its forward movement stopped. Moments later, at approximately 09:30, while it was still alive, an adult female ᴋɪʟʟer whale put its head inside the blue whale’s mouth and began feeding on its tongue.

Why do they eat the tongue of their prey first?

Kɪʟʟer whales have a wide range of prey. They hunt in coordinated packs called pods. They are very organized on a hunt and each has a specific job prior to the ᴋɪʟʟ. Where the confusion might be coming from is that different pods have different habits. It is true that Orca’s have been witnessed eating only the tongue, this is not the norm.
They tend to eat the tongue first because it’s muscle, with lots of protein. Plus, they like the tongue, as we like a good steak. However, in most cases they will consume as much of a whale (typically baleen, or blue whales) as they desire.
In fact, whalers hate them because they will follow whaling ships and wait for the fishermen to harvest a whale. They will then rush in and gorge themselves. Another case of them only eating the tongue is when they are well fed. In this case, they can afford to be picky and may only eat the tongue. Oh, by the way, the average tongue is the size of an elephant. So, it’s no small meal.

Which whale species is not ɑттɑᴄᴋed by orcas?

Humpback whale

Fascinatingly, healthy humpback whales are “the only baleen whale that appears to be impervious to ᴋɪʟʟer whale ɑттɑᴄᴋ,” the scientists write. And “it is the only species known to deliberately approach and drive off mammal-eating ᴋɪʟʟer whales, including those ɑттɑᴄᴋing other prey.”

Why humpbacks are saving other animals?

A Weddell seal rests on the chest of a humpback whale, safe for the time being from ɑттɑᴄᴋing ᴋɪʟʟer whales.

Mammal-eating ᴋɪʟʟer whales ɑттɑᴄᴋ young humpbacks, so it’s possible that humpbacks mob them as a generalised anti-predator behaviour. It could also be that specific humpbacks, individuals that have survived a ᴋɪʟʟer whale ɑттɑᴄᴋ when they were young or have lost a calf to ᴋɪʟʟer-whale predation, respond to these traumas by going on the offensive. The severity of a past inter­action could affect an individual.
A full-grown 30-to-40-ton humpback presents a formidable force against a ᴋɪʟʟer whale, which weighs in at a maximum of six tons. Each enormous flipper can measure up to 16ft. Razor-sharp barnacles encrust the knobby leading edge of these appendages, and the whales brandish them with great dexterity. Humpbacks are the only species of baleen whales to carry their own offensive and defensive weaponry. Though ᴋɪʟʟer whales have teeth and are more agile, a blow from the massive humpback tail or flipper could prove fatal.
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Video source: WATOP

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