2.19.2009

killer whales attacking sea lions

Well, I'm leaving the island today. Somehow, whenever I visit St. George, we always seem to cram the excitement in up to the last minute. Today was no different. We left town early to hike a few miles out along Tolstoi Point--hiking the beach that wraps the point to see if we could find any walrus carcass' or walrus tusks that may have washed up after the recent proximity of the Bering Sea ice (apparently, the dead walrus get pushed out in front of the ice and occasionally float up on Kitzasilof Beach).

So there we were.

A small pod of killer whales has been patrolling the island shores since I've been here. We'd already seen them twice--once from the cottage, and once on a beach hike towards High Bluffs. That second time, they'd spooked the sea lions awfully close to shore.

Today, Ryan and I scrambled halfway down the hill above K-Beach to get a better view of 8 large male sea lions that had hauled out and were enjoying the relative calm. Not long after we'd taken our seats, a show began. I noticed a fin slicing the water to the west of the beach--a few killer whales approached. The huge male lions in front of us were safe but, as we watched, we could see that a group of female sea lions

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were quite alarmed as they porpoised through the water towards us (in a path that would soon meet the whales). One of the female whales peeled off

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from another female who had a calf (beyond them a large male killer whale slowly plied the water--I thought he might be there to receive any sea lions trying to escape?). The female whale that had left the group was headed directly for the group of agitated female lions. All of a sudden, all the action went underwater. Ryan and I couldn't believe our eyes as 50 feet off shore and some hundreds of yards from where we sat the surface of the water was greatly disturbed as the whale attacked the lions. It reminded me of the shape that water takes in a slow-moving river when one startles a school of salmon. For a still photograph it's nothing too interesting...but here it is below:

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Unfortunately for us (as you can see) all of the action happened beneath the surface. The whale was unsuccessful (due to the lions moving quickly enough into the shallows). So the whale surfaced again, moved deeper, and continued on her way while the frightened sea lions hugged the shore (in a few feet of water) and eventually headed east (if you can believe it)--the direction the four whales had gone.

Seeing this firsthand was once-in-a-lifetime, I expect.

I'm hopping the flight back to Anchorage in under an hour (after a busy 10 days on the island) and may update the blog with another St. George post in the next day or two.

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