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Killer whale with missing fins cared for by its pod family

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
May 20th, 2013
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

t's a contradiction that is both amazing and heart-warming. Killer whales are known as voracious predators in the high seas, but a disabled killer whale with missing fins is thriving and surviving with the help of his extended "pod" family.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - The young killer whale has no dorsal fin or right-side pectoral fin, leaving it unable to hunt for itself. In spite of this unfortunate predicament, the whale appears to be cared for by members of its pod, which share their food with the youngster.

It's one of the first recorded instances that killer whales have been seen to feed and care for a non-hunting member.

Underwater photographer Rainer Schimpf came in contact with the pod while the members hunted in waters off Port Elizabeth in South Africa.

"Incapable of fast hunting and ambushing prey it has to be dependent on the pod which, one assumes, looks after it very well.

"It shows these mammals are not really just ruthless killing machines but they also have complex, caring social-structures in which they and care for their own disabled members."

Schimpf had been tracking the pod of seven as they hunted a Bryde\'s whale - measuring 50 feet in length and weighing a massive 15 tons. Killer whales are known to hunt and kill larger whale species, but sometimes only to eat the tongue, research has shown.

The pod also included a female with a bent dorsal fin like the killer whale in "Free Willy," a "huge male" and four other females. Schimpf said the younger whale followed at a distance and appeared to have fallen behind.

The younger killer whale stayed at a distance when the rest of the pod hunted at the surface and then in the depths. "It was brave and curious enough to come close to the boat and inspect us," Schimpf, a guide for Dive Expert Tour says.

"But after a while he disappeared as well, presumably to dive down to the whale-feast below. Such a kill would easily support the entire orca pod and make sharing of the kill much easier than if they had taken a seal or a dolphin."

The find is one of only a handful where injured or disabled killer whales have been known to survive with the help of its pod.

Researchers in 1996 spotted a killer-whale calf that was missing its tail and part of its dorsal fin. Known as "Stumpy," the whale was not seen for many seasons afterwards and presumed dead until it popped up again seven years later -- it was last seen feeding with a pod off the coast of Queensland, Australia, in 2008.



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