These Orcas Are Chess Grandmasters at Seal Hunting

Written by Kirstin Harrington
Updated: October 23, 2023
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The team at BBC Earth spotted a pod of orcas spy-hopping in the Antarctic peninsula. A spy hop occurs when a whale raises its head from the water to observe activity above the surface. Spy hops are typically observed when whales are gathered around talking, deciding where to go, or taking a closer look at a boat carrying passengers. Because of their excellent eyesight, orcas can see clearly above the water.

A seal is taking a nap on a chunk of ice when two orcas acting as scouts spot it lying alone. They make a unique call to get the rest of the pod’s attention. The Weddell seals differed from all other animals previously investigated in that they alternated between sleeping with their entire brain and sleeping with only half of it, similar to dolphins

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They may do this to maintain their nostrils above water for breathing and to keep an eye out for predators like sharks and orcas. As you can see, the sleeping seal in this video has one eye open as soon as the scouts make a call. 

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Incredible aerial footage shows the whales teaming up together in a line to create a sub-surface wave. This ends up breaking the ice the Weddell seal is laying on into smaller pieces. It’s an absolutely genius move by the orcas and leaves the seal on a much smaller and more accessible piece of ice. 

It’s amazing to see the whales work together to push the chunk of ice with the seal into more open water. The seal makes eye contact with the matriarch of the pod and you can tell panic begins to set in. 

Going In for the Kill

They create one more sub-surface wave that knocks the seal right off of the ice, landing in the frigid water below. The tiring seal is cornered by the pod and once again, the whales do something that will make your jaw drop.

To prevent getting injured, they go underwater and begin blowing a bunch of bubbles with their blow holes. The purpose of this is to disorient the seal, making it even easier to snatch for the whales. 

The inevitable happens as the orcas make one last move to secure a meal. It’s mentioned in the video that only about 100 killer whales in the wild use the techniques shown in the footage. 

A Youtube comment reads, “Simply incredible. It shows the high intelligence of this species and how they manage to coordinate in order to achieve their goal. I have never seen something like this before. Thank you BBC Earth for this content.” 

We can’t help but agree. This stunning footage paired with the outstanding skill of the orca whale pod is a sight to see!

The photo featured at the top of this post is © slowmotiongli/

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About the Author

Kirstin is a writer at A-Z Animals primarily covering animals, news topics, fun places, and helpful tips. Kirstin has been writing on a variety of topics for over five years. She has her real estate license, along with an associates degree in another field. A resident of Minnesota, Kirstin treats her two cats (Spook and Finlay) like the children they are. She never misses an opportunity to explore a thrift store with a coffee in hand, especially if it’s a cold autumn day!

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