We’ve talked a lot on here about all the reasons you shouldn’t go into the water. But if you’re unlucky or dumb enough to end up in the ocean, at least one animal (and only one) has your back. New research shows that humpback whales are basically the ocean’s superheroes, regularly intervening on behalf of other animals to protect them from killer whales. In fact, some scientists say that it seems to be part of a “global, concerted effort” on the part of humpbacks.
Researchers have observed humpback whales defending smaller sea animals from killer whale attacks: pic.twitter.com/rCmJVNiiKm
— Rula Zein-Iddin (@rula_z) May 30, 2017
This is notable for a number of reasons. It’s not at all unusual for animals to try and protect their own species, but nearly 90 percent of humpback whale rescue missions involve smaller animals like seals, sea lions and small whales. Yes, humpback whales team up to rescue baby seals from being killed by orcas. They have no natural weapons, so they just use their size and flippers to knock the much smaller killer whales away—in fights that can last up to seven hours. Here’s an account from MNN:
Marine ecologist Robert Pitman observed a particularly dramatic example of this behavior back in 2009, while observing a pod of killer whales hunting a Weddell seal trapped on an ice floe off Antarctica. The orcas were able to successfully knock the seal off the ice, and just as they were closing in for the kill, a magnificent humpback whale suddenly rose up out of the water beneath the seal.
This was no mere accident. In order to better protect the seal, the whale placed it safely on its upturned belly to keep it out of the water. As the seal slipped down the whale’s side, the humpback appeared to use its flippers to carefully help the seal back aboard. Finally, when the coast was clear, the seal was able to safely swim off to another, more secure ice floe.
Even more interesting? Scientists can find no earthly reason for them to do this. The humpback whales gain nothing from their rescue missions. Some researchers think humpbacks may be purely altruistic—meaning that they, unlike most animals and, let’s be real, most people—are simply acting out of the goodness of their hearts. That’s a great reason to admire humpback whales but, please, admire them from afar. Don’t go in the water.