A Narrow Escape

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Killer whale encounters in Alaska are not uncommon, but rarely are they this interactive.

John Dornellas was operating a water taxi in Kachemak Bay one morning when an otter suddenly raced towards his boat. Dornellas had been watching nearby killer whales, two adults and one juvenile, shortly before the encounter, and he noticed one of the orcas chasing the frantic otter as it approached. The otter jumped into his boat, and the orca swam past.

Transient killer whales usually feast on harbor seals, Dall porpoises, and harbor porpoises. According to Dan Olsen, research director for the nonprofit North Gulf Oceanic Society, otters do not provide many calories and are therefore not usual prey, but the orcas may have been teaching the juvenile to hunt, hunting for sport, or simply responding to instinct.

Dornella, running late, slowly motored away with the otter aboard. The orca did not follow, which may have given the otter the chance to safely swim to shore.