PICTURES: Orcas have been seen killing and eating rare whales for the first time

Everything has to eat. Picture: Getty Images

We know nature is cruel, but if you don’t want to see pictures of a rare whale being caught and eaten, look away now.

A team from Curtin University in Perth is the first to capture pictures of killer whales chasing down and killing rare beaked whales.

The group have been travelling with commercial whale-watching boats south-east off the bottom tip of Western Australia. On four occasions, they have been able to take pictures of up to 20 killers whales at a time hunting rare beaked whales.

Beaked whales are the deepest-diving air-breathing animal we know of. The longest known dive by a Cuvier beaked whale stands at 137 minutes, to a depth of nearly three kilometres.

Unfortunately, the young strap-toothed beaked whales in the photos below chose exactly the wrong time to come up for air.

While killer whales have been documented preying on neonatal humpbacks, and this harrowing footage of a young grey whale meeting its demise surfaced in 2009, this is the first time they’ve been seen hunting beaked whales.

In this encounter, five killer whales flanked the beaked whale a metre either side for 67 minutes, while 10-15 other killer whales stayed within 500-800m of the hunting pack:

A bad time to come up for air. Picture: Rebecca Wellard

Blood was “evident” in the water, but it’s possible that particular beaked whale got away.

This next one wasn’t so lucky. Wellard and her team noted the hunts usually lasted no longer than two hours.

Six orcas took this beaked whale down and one was seen with flesh in its mouth:

The orcas start hassling their prey. Picture: Rebecca Wellard

And in February this year, there was no doubt about the fate of this beaked whale.

After tiring it out, following this opening attack…

Attack. And the damage done. Picture: Rebecca Wellard

The orcas moved in for the kill:

Nature at its most brutal. Picture: Rebecca Wellard

Up to 19 killer whales spent 40 minutes feeding on the beaked whale.

Killer whales around Australia typically prey on sunfish and large squid, but not a lot is known about they ways they differ from their counterparts in the North Atlantic and Antarctica.

Most of what we know about them comes from incidental sightings from tour boats and commercial fishers, so researchers were understandably happy to witness the hunts, despite their grim endings.

You can read the full report from the Curtin University team here.

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