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Media opportunity: Orca spotted caring for pilot whale calf in first recorded sighting of one species tending to a newborn of a different species

Posted by Communications and Marketing on February 23, 2023 in News

Researchers studying whale species off the coast of West Iceland have documented the first recorded case of an orca caring for the offspring of another species.

The female orca, known as "Sædís," was spotted with a newborn long-finned pilot whale calf swimming at her side near Snæfellsnes, Iceland, in August 2021. There were no other pilot whales around at the time.

Researchers documented the sighting on board tour vessels and from land on the Snæfellsnes peninsula, watching as the emaciated calf swam in a protected position next to the female orca.

The team, including Elizabeth Zwamborn of Dalhousie University, suggests that the killer whale may have taken the pilot whale calf and been attempting to adopt it since she has never been documented with a calf of her own. Members outlined their findings in a new paper in the Canadian Journal of Zoology.

Orcas and long-finned pilot whales are thought to have similar social structures and mother-offspring relationships, making care-giving behaviour between the two species a possibility. However, this was the first time such an association has been documented in the scientific literature.

Zwamborn, a PhD candidate in the Department of Biology, is available to discuss the research and how it might explain why pilot whales aggressively chase off killer whales in a bid to protect their young.

Please visit these sites for photos and video assets (Credit: Orca Guardians Iceland). Study is available upon request.


Media contact:

Alison Auld
Senior Research Reporter
Communications, Marketing and Creative Services
Dalhousie University
Cell: 1-902-220-0491


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