See Orcas and Humpback Whales Fight by the U.S.-Canadian Border in this Incredible Video

Do Whales Have Hair - Humpback Whale Hair
© Craig Lambert Photography/

Written by Katie Melynn Wood

Updated: October 18, 2023

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Two giants of the marine mammal world are orcas and humpback whales. Thanks to some incredible footage captured off the coast of Victoria, British Columbia, we get to see just how these whales would face off in the wild. While these two whales don’t often get into fights with each other, both are formidable and can take a stand to show dominance when needed.

Orcas are carnivores and prey on other marine life, including seals and dolphins. They sometimes do go after humpback whales, but the sheer size of these massive whales often keeps them out of the powerful jaws of orcas. Humpback whales, on the other hand, are baleen whales. They eat krill, which they strain through their mouths when they take in huge mouthfuls of ocean water. When engaging with orcas, they do it to protect their young, themselves, or their territory.

The video shows both orcas and humpback whales coming to the surface for air. Both are mammals and need air to survive. They can hold their breath for some time but, during a confrontation, they use more energy than in their normal day-to-day activities. That results in more frequent trips to the surface for a breath of fresh air.

Don’t Miss This Interaction Between Orcas and Whales in the Video Below

This surface activity was what first alerted the group on the boat that something unusual was going on. “Crew members with Eagle Wing Tours were the first to locate a group of approximately 15 killer whales being unusually active at the surface,” the Pacific Whale Watch Association’s website said along with the video.

Whale watching is a popular tourist activity in these waters, although most are not usually able to witness something like this prolonged confrontation between massive humpbacks and distinctly-colored orcas.

The orcas and humpbacks interacted with each other in shows of force and dominance for over three hours. This looked like frequent movement, waving their tails and bodies in and out of the water, and making sounds.

A Lengthy Battle

“The encounter included an astonishing three hours of breaching, tail-slapping, and loud vocalizations before all of the whales disappeared into the fog, keeping the final outcome of the melee a mystery,” said the website.

Those familiar with the area and wildlife were able to identify the two humpback whales as “Reaper” and “Hydra.” Humpback whales have distinct markings that can be used to identify one whale from another, especially once they are seen frequently. Tracking devices also help researchers learn more about their movements and migration patterns. Finally, injury marks and scars tell the story of when whales may have come into contact with other animals or even humans or watercraft.

Reaper is a 4-year-old humpback whale. He has been seen near Mexico, where his movements are tracked. Hydra is a female who has given birth to at least three calves that researchers know about. She is commonly spotted around Maui, Hawaii. This is not surprising, since humpback whales often migrate to the warm water off the Hawaiian Islands during the winter months to use it as a breeding and birth location, according to the Aquarium of Hawaii, Maui Ocean Center.

Orcas, on the other hand, do not migrate and are frequently seen in this area of the Pacific Northwest. They usually eat seals, sea lions, and porpoises, although they have been known to go after the occasional humpback whale. While they didn’t take down Reaper and Hydra, the encounter must still have been very intense.

Whales Swim Away

We may never know who would win in this fight or if both parties just decided to call it quits after a few hours. The people observing the whales knew to give them space and maintain some distance between themselves and the whales. Orcas in particular can be dangerous to humans who they perceive as a threat. These whales were already agitated and stepping in could have been very dangerous for the people nearby.

This video appeared on the Pacific Whale Watch Association’s website under the heading “Goliaths vs. Goliaths.” That is certainly an accurate description of these amazing animals. The footage was shot by whale watchers from a distance. Getting too close can make them feel threatened. Wisely, these whale watchers stayed a safe distance away and did not try to interact with the whales.

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About the Author

Katie is a freelance writer and teaching artist specializing in home, lifestyle, and family topics. Her work has appeared in At Ease Magazine, PEOPLE, and The Spruce, among others. When she is not writing, Katie teaches creative writing with the Apex Arts Magnet Program in Anne Arundel County, Maryland. You can follow Katie @katiemelynnwriter.

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