In his excitement over the dorsal fins he didn't have time to be afraid

That probably changed after swimmer Will Gerard’s encounter with this pod of killer whales.

I imagine he was shaken up following the encounter. These magnificent creatures are apex predators:

An apex predator is an animal who, as an adult, has no natural predators in its ecosystem. The great white shark is an example of an apex predator.

Apex predators play an important role in keeping ecosystems in check. A study in 2009 showed that on land, or in the ocean, the removal of apex predators (intentionally or accidentally) can have dramatic impacts on an ecosystem, and result in even larger problems.

Though the creatures are scary, they were likely more inquisitive than anything. Plus they knew he wasn’t a mid-day snack:

“When I saw the dorsal fins and realized it was an orca I was so excited I didn’t have time to be afraid and get out of the water,” Gerard told The Marlborough Express. Highly intelligent hunters, orcas would “know the difference between a human and a seal,” said Roy Grose, a local conservationist.

It’s illegal in New Zealand to willfully swim with wild orcas, but that does not apply in this case. “The orcas approached him and that’s fine, there’s no problem with that,” said Grose.

(via Takepart)

In his excitement over the dorsal fins he didn't have time to be afraid
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In his excitement over the dorsal fins he didn’t have time to be afraid

That probably changed after swimmer Will Gerard’s encounter with this pod of killer whales.

I imagine he was shaken up following the encounter. These magnificent creatures are apex predators:

An apex predator is an animal who, as an adult, has no natural predators in its ecosystem. The great white shark is an example of an apex predator.

Apex predators play an important role in keeping ecosystems in check. A study in 2009 showed that on land, or in the ocean, the removal of apex predators (intentionally or accidentally) can have dramatic impacts on an ecosystem, and result in even larger problems.

Though the creatures are scary, they were likely more inquisitive than anything. Plus they knew he wasn’t a mid-day snack:

“When I saw the dorsal fins and realized it was an orca I was so excited I didn’t have time to be afraid and get out of the water,” Gerard told The Marlborough Express. Highly intelligent hunters, orcas would “know the difference between a human and a seal,” said Roy Grose, a local conservationist.

It’s illegal in New Zealand to willfully swim with wild orcas, but that does not apply in this case. “The orcas approached him and that’s fine, there’s no problem with that,” said Grose.

(via Takepart)

In his excitement over the dorsal fins he didn’t have time to be afraid

Aerial drone photos of killer whales

An unmanned remote controlled vehicle has allowed scientists from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Vancouver Aquarium to film killer whales from above. The high resolution camera mounted to the drone has taken beautifully detailed images of the magnificent creatures.

(photo courtesy of NOAA)

(photo courtesy of NOAA)

(photo courtesy of NOAA; you can check out further images here)

Cool huh?

The scientists had more in mind than simply taking amazing new photos of these creatures. They were looking to monitor the health of individual killer whales and their population as a whole.

To get these photos, scientists from NOAA Fisheries teamed up with colleagues at the Vancouver Aquarium. The animals they studied are the Northern Resident killer whales of British Columbia, a population that’s listed as threatened under Canada’s Species At Risk Act, and the pilots were trained and operating under permits issued by the Canadian Government. Like the endangered Southern Residents that spend summers near Seattle, these whales eat salmon—mainly Chinook salmon—and some of the salmon runs they rely on are much smaller than they used to be. In fact, several Chinook runs are themselves endangered, and scientists are concerned that a lack of prey may be limiting the whale populations.

The main question scientists are trying to answer is: Are the whales getting enough to eat? To find out, they fly the hexacopter at an altitude of more than 100 feet, high enough that the whales don’t notice it, but near enough to get photographs that are incredibly revealing. Scientists have previously taken aerial photographs of killer whales from a helicopter, but those photos are taken from a much higher altitude, and the cost can be prohibitive.

By analyzing the hexacopter photos, scientists can see how fat or skinny individual whales are. They can also see which whales are pregnant and what percentage of pregnancies are carried to term.

Currently, scientists do a summer census to learn out how many whales have died since the year before. “But mortality is a pretty coarse measure of how well the population is doing because the problem, if there is one, has already occurred,” said John Durban, a biologist with NOAA’s Southwest Fisheries Science Center in La Jolla, California. But the hexacopter, Durban said, “can give us a more sensitive measure that we might be able to respond to before whales die.”

Aerial drone photos of killer whales