Scientists Observe Killer Whale Infanticide

Killer WhalesEfraimstochter / Pixabay

Killer whales, or Orcas, are known for their vicious killing capabilities. However, no one has ever done a scientific study recording a case of killer whale infanticide. Researchers in Canada witnessed a horrifying situation. They watched a male killer whale drowning an infant that belonged to the same species.

This incident of killer whale infanticide occurred on December 2, 2016, near the coast of Vancouver Island, British Columbia. After witnessing the event in horror, the scientists conducted a study that they have now published in the journal Scientific Reports. The researchers, a group of marine scientists, didn’t expect to observe this horrifying event at the time when they embarked on a research expedition. They recorded on their vessel’s underwater microphones an alerting sound that was attributed to the presence of killer whales in the area.

After they learned that the whales were in fact behind the noises on the microphones, the researchers noticed a splashing in the water that they attributed to the whales possibly hunting. However, after closer observation they found that an infant Orca didn’t come up to the surface. A male had the calf in its mouth and his mother was defending him, while and calf’s mother and others of the pod were chasing them.

This is the first scientifically recorded observation of a killer whale infanticide. According to the study, infanticide has been observed in many different animals in the past, although never of killer whales.

“Among terrestrial mammals, it is mostly reported in primates, carnivores and rodents,” the researchers noted in their study. “However, compelling evidence for infanticide in cetaceans [a group of animals containing whales, dolphins and porpoises] exists in just three species of dolphin.”

Jared Towers, Cetacean ecologist who worked on the study told CBC News that he was distressed with the scene. However, to gather more information they could use for research purposes, Towers and his team decided to remain until the end of the terrifying event.

Scientists attribute the infanticide to something referred to as “sexually selected behavior” since the offending male and his mother didn’t eat the remains of the infant. Sexually selected behavior means that a male killed the calf so that it can mate with its mother.

“In other mammals, we know that in a lot of cases males kill infants, because it forces the infant’s mom into a fertile state much quicker,” Towers told CBC News.

“Killer whale moms are notorious for helping their adult sons and daughters by sharing food with them and leading them, and maybe even providing mating opportunities for adult male offspring,” Towers added.

The researchers who worked on the paper and witnessed the event are doubtful about the long-held assumption on how they understood the sexual behavior of orcas. Previously, researchers thought that female orcas are free-willed when it comes to picking up their mate and mating. They were often found at the top of the pod hierarchy.

However, after a close-in encounter of the killer whale infanticide, Towers thinks that female Orcas are not as much free-willed like it was thought before. What they observed raises many questions about the way killer whales interact socially.


For exclusive info on hedge funds and the latest news from value investing world at only a few dollars a month check out ValueWalk Premium right here.

Multiple people interested? Check out our new corporate plan right here (We are currently offering a major discount)

About the Author

Danica Simic
Danica Simic has been writing ever since she was a child. Before she started writing for ValueWalk she was reviewing laptops, headphones and gaming equipment as well as writing articles about astronomy and game development. Danica is a student of applied and computational physics while also studying software and data engineering. Her hobbies include reading, swimming, drawing and gaming whenever she has free time. - Email her at

1 Comment on "Scientists Observe Killer Whale Infanticide"

  1. I’m a huge orca-lover but ever since I read the news, I have this bitter taste in my mouth. No, we cannot compare them with stupid rodents! Think about the unbelievable intelligence they have shown so many times. Think about the unexpected kindness – saving people from drowning and from shark attacks, although we definitely DON’T deserve their help (we’re separating their babies from the mothers, putting them in captivity at SeaWorld and other similar places and torturing them every time they don’t perform a desired trick).
    I’m just wondering… how can a creature so smart and kind kill one of their own?? :(

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.