Defenders of The Deep: The Humpbacks Who Save Other Animals From Orcas

Animals |

In November 1941, Aquaman, the underwater superhero who communicates with fish, debuted in More Fun Comics #73. During his early run, he battled Nazi U-Boats and modern day pirates.

While Aquaman may not be real, there are heroes of the deep.

Recently, marine biologists have noticed something peculiar: Humpback whales are rescuing undersea creatures from orca whales. 

Humpbacks have interfered with orca hunts 115 times that the scientists have observed, leading them to believe that humpbacks may have protective behavior written into their DNA.

Dolphins have long been known to come to the aid of animals – and humans – in need. But previously, humpbacks weren’t known to be partciualrly helpful. In a new study by an international team of researchers explains that: “...More recent observations, including popular accounts and videos posted on the internet, suggest that a baleen whale – the humpback whale (Megaptera novaeangliae) – also approaches marine vertebrates in distress, most notably, when they are being attacked by killer whales (Orcinus orca)."

One of the most popular (and frankly bizarre) accounts involves a pack of orcas knocking a seal from an ice floe. Before they could dig in, however, a humpback appeared from under the seal, and facilitated its escape.

"As is evident above, most reports describing humpback interactions with MEKWs [mammal-eating killer whales] have emphasized humpback defensive behaviors, but there is a growing body of evidence to suggest that humpback anti-predator behavior may have evolved beyond just basic defense, possibly including humpbacks deliberately interfering when MEKWs are attacking other humpbacks and even other species," the study continues.


Why humpbacks are suddenly (or maybe not suddenly) acting as defenders of the deep is unknown. More research and observation are needed. An Italian study done in July 2016 suggests that whales mourn for their departed loved ones. That, coupled with the recently observed behavior of humpbacks, raises serious questions about the emotional complexity of these creatures. A theory is that humpbacks, whose young after often hunted by orcas, are engaging in these defensive measures either out of simple revenge or a deeply ingrained humanitarianism.

Aquaman would be proud.

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Autumn Mcleod

Senior Writer

Autumn came to us really wanting to break away from the politics that came with working for major news sites. She leads our positive story writers in creating the best, engaging stories out there. She is an enthusiast of all things from the roaring twenties.