Gray whale survives attack from orca pod

SEATTLE - A gray whale appears to be OK one day after he was attacked by a pod of orcas.

Howard Garrett of the Orca Network said the gray whale was spotted today swimming with other gray whales.

He’s a male whale named “Patch” and has frequented Puget Sound for the past 19 years.

Whale watchers caught a rare sight Sunday of a pod of transient orcas attacking the gray whale. These orcas eat mammals and are different from the endangered Puget Sound orcas that eat salmon.

Garrett said there have been three other reports of transient orcas attacking gray whales in Puget Sound. He says it’s very unusual.

“Everything was quiet for a minute,” said Monte Hughes, captain of the Anacortes-based Mystic Sea Charters. “Then the water went into a frenzy. ... You could see the movements of the gray whale being hit underneath the water.”

A short time later the gray whale surfaced, belly up, and jerked upward two or three times as it was being hit from below, he said. The orcas then took off, and the gray whale floundered for a time, but eventually swam toward shallow waters.

Howard Garrett, director of the Orca Network, said there have been three other reports of transient orcas attacking gray whales in Puget Sound. The first sighting was March 22.

Transient orcas are different from the three pods of Puget Sound orcas that feed on salmon. These whales typically eat marine mammals such as sea lions, porpoises, dolphins and gray whales.

Robin Baird, a marine biologist with Olympia-based Cascadia Research Collective, said it’s not unusual for transients to attack gray whales but most of the attacks have occurred in California or Alaska, in areas where the grays are particularly vulnerable.

“I have not heard of them attacking grays in Puget Sound before,” Baird said in an e-mail from Hawaii, where he was doing field work.

Whale observers said they’re not sure why the attacks happened.

“It doesn’t fit the usual textbook wildlife behavior,” Garrett said. “They usually pass by each other and pay no mind.”