Humpback Whale Gets Attacked by a Pod of Orcas

Location: Wreck of the State of California, Admiralty Island, Frederick Sound, southeast Alaska

Comments: You never know what you are going to sea (pun intended) out here! We started our day with a Zodiac tour looking for grizzly bears, some kayaking, and 2 dives on the wreck of the 110 year old steamship, SS State of California. The ship is almost 300 feet long, sitting upright on a 45° slope with the bow in 80 feet in the water and the stern considerably deeper. It is quite intact and the only scuba dive we are doing on this trip in which guests can see giant cloud sponges. The ship is a very fine dive despite the jet of cold water (41 to 42°F!) on the bottom.

After wrapping the diving, we steamed out into Frederick Sound to do some whale watching and got a lot more than we bargained for! Frederick Sound hosts a large number of feeding humpback whales during the summer and we had a number of good sightings. All of a sudden a pod of orcas moved in very fast and unexpectedly on us. We hadn’t noticed them before and I thought they looked more like pacific white sided dolphins than orcas given their high speed of approach towards the Nautilus Explorer  (orcas are, of course, the largest member of the “dolphin” family and could quite correctly be called “giant dolphins”).

I made a fast 180° turn in the Nautilus to keep them in sight and was taken aback when I realized that they were swarming a large adult humpback whale. It was hard to see exactly what was going on because of all the splashing. I assumed that the orcas were actually attacking a humpback whale calf and that the mom was defending her offspring from the orcas. Despite all the excited splashing and fin slapping and all the other stuff going on, we weren’t able to see a calf and can only assume that the orcas took a run at the adult humpback. I’ve never heard of such a thing before!

Funny twist to the story is that a large Princess cruise ship was bearing down on us as all this was going on so I called the Captain on the VHF radio to let him know what was going on. While he seemed appreciative, the huge white cruise ship never slowed down or altered their course. All we could see were the strobe-like flashes in the distance from the cruise ship passengers on the upper decks  as they took pictures of the whole thing. I’m sure they got some nice shots of tiny black dots. In all modesty, I think it is hard to exceed the experience that we offer on the Nautilus Explorer.

–Captain Mike


Weather: High broken clouds. Fine weather and a nice day. Calm seas. Temperatures in the 60’s. Flat calm seas.

Water: Water temperature 44°F in Gambier Bay with 41 – 42°F deep. Visibility 10 feet in plankton with 30 feet plus under the bloom.