Whale of a time

Killer whale loses its dorsal fin - and possibly its life

Howard Butt editor@pilotnl.ca
Published on August 6, 2008
First mate Kim Young and her brother Perry Young, show the dorsal fin they witnessed being bitten off a younger killer whale by an adult killer whale. A close examination shows the teeth marks. An adult male has between 40 and 56 teeth, all razor sharp. The incident occurred on July 17 off Twillingate.

"I've never seen anything like it before!"

Perry Young, skipper of the M.V. Daybreak 93, a tour boat operating out of Twillingate North, was still amazed a couple of days afterwards at what had occurred while on a tour on July 17.

With several tourists aboard he had come across a pod of killer whales just off Twillingate Harbour, he recounted, and had stopped for his passengers to take photos. He said it was obvious that the whale were about to feed on a school of salmon. Mr. Young said with no icebergs in the area, tourists are anxious to sight whales and take souvenir photos.

Twillingate - "I've never seen anything like it before!"

Perry Young, skipper of the M.V. Daybreak 93, a tour boat operating out of Twillingate North, was still amazed a couple of days afterwards at what had occurred while on a tour on July 17.

With several tourists aboard he had come across a pod of killer whales just off Twillingate Harbour, he recounted, and had stopped for his passengers to take photos. He said it was obvious that the whale were about to feed on a school of salmon. Mr. Young said with no icebergs in the area, tourists are anxious to sight whales and take souvenir photos.

"There were eight whales altogether, made up of two adult males, four adult females and two young ones," he said.

Because of Mr. Young's experience on the water his identification of the killer whales was not contested since that specie is known to inhabit the waters around the coast. He explained that the young ones were some eight to 10 feet in length, while the adult males were 20-25 feet long and the adult females slightly smaller.

The whales, he said, like a pack of wolves were in the act of herding some salmon into a smaller area before attacking. When they finally made the rush to get the salmon one of the adults bit off the dorsal fin of one of the younger whales.

"I can't say that it was intentional," said Mr. Young. "But it might have been in the excitement of the moment that the young one got caught in the cross fire.

"Regardless, the fin was cleanly bitten off and left floating on the water. What happened to the young whale I don't know because we never saw it again."

Mr. Young's sister Kim Young, who serves as first mate on the Daybreak, saw the incident and corroborated what her brother had described. It was Ms. Young as well who spotted the fin floating in the water and recovered it.

On close examination the teeth marks were clearly evident and the whole dorsal fin was removed. According to literature on killer whales, the dorsal fin acts as a kind of keel and stabilizes the whale in its swimming, therefore it is quite possible that the young whale may have gone to the bottom. There is no recorded evidence that killer whales attack their own kind.

Aboard the Daybreak at the time of the sighting were several tourists with a couple from Newfoundland, some from Europe with most from the province of Ontario. Mr. Young said they will have photos and a story they will tell for a long time.

"There's no doubt but that they got their money's worth on that trip," he said.