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Personal Side of Capturing Orcas Hunt, Kill Whale Baby in Landmark Oregon Coast Event

Published 05/21/23 at 6:22 p.m.
By Jaklyn Larsen

Personal Side of Capturing Orcas Hunt, Kill Gray Whale in Landmark Oregon Coast Event

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(Depoe Bay, Oregon) – May 8 proved to be kind of a landmark day for the Oregon coast. A series of firsts, really. Thanks to the Facebook page Oregon Coast Killer Whale Monitoring Program (formerly using the term “sightings” in the title), dozens of folks right on the coast were alerted to a pod of orcas chasing down a mother gray whale and its calf. For the first time ever along Oregon's shoreline this dramatic battle was caught on video and in stills by not just one person – but documented by dozens. Dozens Watch and Document Orcas Attack, Kill Baby Whale on Oregon Coast: More Videos 

One of the those was Jaklyn Larsen of Jaklyn Larsen Photography. She shared her intense personal experience with Oregon Coast Beach Connection. ALL PHOTOS, VIDEO AND WORDS JAKLYN LARSEN

I arrived at Devil's Punchbowl around 7 pm after hearing reports that the orcas were still in the midst of a predation event involving a gray whale and its calf. There were about two dozen people observing with cameras, binoculars, and commenting as the action was going on quite a ways from shore to the north. It was obvious the killer whales were working together to try to take down their prey, as the splashes were quite large at times, followed by small lulls in the action.

Within the first few minutes of being there, I had my telephoto lens on my camera and was able to see three large orcas breach up out of the water in near perfect unison before diving back under the surf. To see them work so closely was incredible, and I knew I would have even better views if I launched my drone. After photographing them with my camera for awhile, and seeing the wind was still quite minimal, I decided I wanted to attempt to get a top-down view of the action.

As soon as the whales came into view I could see on the screen of my remote what all of the commotion was about – there was a mother defending her calf, as they were being encircled by the orcas repeatedly. The movements of the orcas seemed both chaotic and controlled. It was evident they were using a tactic that they'd employed many times before. I heard from others they had been predating on the gray whales for at least an hour by the time I arrived, but it was likely longer than that. It was also evident as soon as the gray whales came into view on my screen that the calf was no longer alive. That was the moment I will never forget. I felt both simultaneously in awe, and awful. To see the mother gray whale lifting her lifeless calf’s body to the surface multiple times in the midst of the predators who had taken its life was absolutely heartbreaking. And yet, despite the heartache, getting to see the family of killer whales work cooperatively like that was nothing short of incredible.

I stayed until it was too dark to see much of anything, the splashing continuing long after the sunset. The mother whale looked tired, but she was still alive last I saw her.

As I shared in my photo captions earlier, nature isn't always pretty. Moments like these are difficult to observe, to say the least. Yet it's these kinds of opportunities that show us how a mother's love can exist in animals, even in the wild. It's instances like this that show us how communication and teamwork is not an exclusively human trait. It's moments like these that connect us more with the wildlife around us.

I hope that by sharing my images (and the video footage I plan to share more of soon), we find ourselves reminded how interconnected we are with the natural world around us. And I hope it's a reminder of how incredible the world is, even in the difficult moments.

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Andre' GW Hagestedt is editor, owner and primary photographer / videographer of Oregon Coast Beach Connection, an online publication that sees over 1 million pageviews per month. He is also author of several books about the coast.

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