Only a few hours before this photo was taken, this juvenile sei whale was alive, swimming in the waters of Estero Slight and Caleta Buena.
Late the previous evening, while the team was working sampling the young sei whale found dead and floating in the bay earlier in the day, we witnessed a spectacle that we never could have imagined. A large group of orcas, first seen in the distance at the entrance to the bay, were getting closer, chasing and attacking two sei whales who were swimming into the bay, trying to get away from their attackers.
We dropped everything and ran along the beach at low tide to follow the dramatic events. Filming with small cameras, grabbed hurriedly in the excitement, we ran along the beach, climbing over tree trunks and then climbing into the tree trunks as the drama taking place only meters in front of us took on a even more upsetting turn.
As the orca attacks became more aggressive, the sei whales seemed to become more frantic and then began to try to beach themselves, right next to where some of us were standing. These attempts to beach happened several times before the whales swam away, back out the fiord, the orcas following them, swimming next to the whales, jumping on top of them, breaching and landing on them, seemingly biting at them, first four, then six then 10 orcas, relentlessly attacking the whales. It was exactly what the fisherman had described to us just recently, a story we couldn’t quite grasp without seeing it for ourselves. As it got darker, we lost the view of the whales and the orcas and went back to continue our job of our sampling, finishing up just as the inky darkness of rain closed in.
We all went to sleep that night disturbed by what we had seen.
And it wasn’t over. In the middle of the night, I awoke abruptly, some sort of “thunk” resonating through the hull, then lots of ghostlike noises, whistling, chirping. Something was not right.
The next morning, we awoke to find another whale on the beach in the river in Caleta Buena. A whale that only hours before was alive, perhaps one of the whales that was swimming for its life the night before, persecuted by the orcas. And now it is high and dry like the hundreds of other whales we’ve counted here in this region.
It makes me wonder, how many of those hundreds of thousands of words I have taken in photos of the other whales tell this whales same story?