"Disabled" baby whale rescued by pod of killer whales
- Filed under:
The youngster is missing its dorsal fin and a right-side pectoral fin, leaving it unable to hunt for itself.
Underwater photographer Rainer Schimpf came face to face with the curious sea creature while its family hunted in choppy waters off Port Elizabeth in South Africa.
He told Barcroft Media: "Incapable of fast hunting and ambushing prey it has to be dependent on the pod which, one assumes, looks after it very well.
"It shows these mammals are not really just ruthless killing machines but they also have complex, caring social structures in which they care for their own disabled members." Mr Schimpf had been tracking the pod of seven as they hunted a Bryde's whale - measuring 15m in length and weighing a massive 15 tonnes.
Whales are known to hunt and kill larger whale species - but sometimes only eat the tongue, research has shown.
The pod also included a female with a bent dorsal fin like the killer whale in Free Willy, a "huge male" and four other females.
He said the younger whale followed at a distance and appeared to have fallen behind.
While the rest of the pod hunted at the surface and then far below when the whale made a dash for the depths, the younger whale stayed behind. "It was brave and curious enough to come close to the boat and inspect us," said Mr Schimpf, a guide for Dive Expert Tour.
"But after a while he disappeared as well, presumably to dive down to the whale-feast below.
"Such a kill would easily support the entire orca pod and make sharing of the kill much easier than if they had taken a seal or a dolphin."
It is one of the few times that killer whales have been seen to feed and care for a non-hunting member.
In 1996, researchers spotted a killer whale calf that was missing its tail and part of its dorsal fin - believed to have been sliced off by a boat propeller.
The injured killer whale - known as stumpy - was not seen for many seasons afterwards and presumed dead until it popped up again seven years later.
It was last seen feeding with a pod off the coast of Queensland, Australia, in 2008.
Sperm whale in Scottish harbour for nine days swims safely back to sea
Delighted tourist gets a kiss from a 30-tonne gray whale
See more stunning sea life below: