I’ve always known it not to be possible for Orcas to travel, let alone live, in Hawaiian tropical waters because they live in cold icy waters. I never would have expected orcas to travel thousands of miles to the Hawaiian islands, but once a professor confirmed for me that the rare occasion has indeed occurred, I had to look into it and see for myself. Over ten years ago, in 2000, a rare (yet not unknown) sighting of killer whales was spotted and captured on camera “during an aerial survey of marine mammals in Hawaiian waters”. There were five killer whales (Orcinus orca), including one juvenile, spotted near Kamalino Bay off the island of Ni’ihau. Although, the interpretation of said killer whales was not a confirmed identity of the “presumed” cetaceans, detailed inspection of the photographs taken from the 244m distance proved distinct features of killer whales. Although, no real reason was determined as to why the killer whales (Orcinus orca) decided to travel 27,000 miles of ocean to the Hawaiian islands, research shows an interesting possibility. This March 2000 sighting is only one amongst several killer whale sightings over the past decades. All the recorded sightings happen to fall within the winter season, which is when baleen whales migrate to tropical waters during breeding season. Thus, leading to a possibility that some “mammal-eating killer whales [may] follow the whale migrations to feed on this seasonal abundance of neonates.” as theorized by Corkeron and Connor (1999).
I found this article quite interesting due to my personal fascination and interest in orcas and that it is possible for orcas to travel to tropical waters for some time. This is a potential area I happen to be interested in researching down the road, tracking killer whales to see if and when they may travel farther away from winter waters than usual. It will also be interesting to see if any newer sightings of killer whales will be spotted within these next couple of years. It’s been over ten years since the last sighting, and before that 2000 sighting, it had been about 20 years since a sighting. I’m familiar with the research of false killer whales around the Hawaiian islands, but imagine getting the chance to see actual killer whales outside of their typically preferred environment. See what they do if they come back to Hawaii. Will they prey on the humpback whales? Will they prey on large fish? Will the whales even survive for very long in warmer waters? How long will they stay? There are so many questions to ask about the rare sighting of killer whales in a tropical environment. If only they’d come back in order for us to get answers to these questions!
-by Nichole Wagner
-Mobley, J. R., Mazzuca, L., Craig, A. S., Newcomer, M.W., Spitz, S. S. 2001. Killer Whales (Orcinus orca) Sighted West of Niihau, Hawaii. Pacific Science 55(3):301-303.
-Corkeron, P. J., and R. C. Connor. 1999. Why do baleen whales migrate? Marine Mammal Science 15:1228 – 1245.