9/21/16 – Orcas and Eagles

9/21/16 – Why am I writing about Orcas (Orcinus orca) on a Bald eagle site?

When you think of Orcas I hope you are not thinking of killing predators, viciously attacking a seal. If you are of the right age, you may remember David Attenborough narrating the dramatic video of Orcas hunting seals. But Orcas are highly intelligent, highly social, marine mammals. Try this video that is narrated with an explanation of the behavior you are seeing and maybe you will have a different impression of Orcas hunting seals.

Even though Orcas live in all of the world’s oceans, we still know relatively little about them. Some of what we do know about Orcas is downright amazing. While Orcas are found all over the world, they are not all alike. Different groups use different languages. They also hunt in highly specialized ways, depending on their target prey. In Antarctica, they hunt penguins, seals and sea lions, near New Zealand they hunt stingray, in the Arctic they hunt Narwhal, and elsewhere they use carousel feeding to hunt fish. Even more remarkable is they have been seen feeding this way with humpback and fin whales.

Juvenile Bald eagle on rock, Aleutian Isl.
Juvenile Bald eagle on rock, Aleutian Island, courtesy of Hal Heatwole

So, what about Orcas and Bald eagles? Some Orcas and Bald eagles share a very important resource…salmon! In the Pacific Northwest there are at least three distinct types of Orcas that live in the area. The largest are the transient, or Biggs Orcas, and they hunt other marine mammals, mostly seals and sea lions. Then there are the resident Orcas, the Northern residents and the Southern residents, they eat salmon.

Juvenile eagle on rock courtesy of Hal Heatwole
Juvenile Bald eagle on rock courtesy of Hal Heatwole

The resident Orcas are not there all the time, and scientists do not even know where they go in the winter, but they return to the area on a consistent schedule each year. The Southern residents use the area from Seattle north to roughly the southern half of Vancouver Island, while the Northern residents use the area north of that. They come to the area to feed on salmon returning to the area to seek out the rivers where they were born. The salmon that make it past the Orcas and find their way upstream will eventually spawn and feed many more things in the area; they nourish the entire ecosystem from the Orcas, to the Brown bears, even the trees, and of course, the Bald eagles!

Rainbow over Orcalab
Rainbow and Orca blow over Orcalab

If you would like a chance to see some of the animals that share the salmon with the eagles, try these live webcams from Explore: Orcalab, or Bears. Click these to learn more about the Southern resident and the Northern resident Orca and the research that is being done. If you missed the opportunity to chat live with Orcalab videographer Megan Hockin-Bennett I encourage you to watch the recording.


One thought on “9/21/16 – Orcas and Eagles

  1. Thanks e5…I follow the Monterey Bay site on FB! They refer Orcas as killer whales, I sent them a message and ask WHY! The responds was..the public knows them as killer whales and thats what we call them!! Very Sad!!


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