Orcas slurp sea jellies in rare behavior caught on video

·2 min read

For the second time this year an orca family group has been documented playing with sea jellies in California’s Monterey Bay.

This rarely observed behavior – transient orcas, or killer whales, prey almost exclusively on marine mammals – involved the same four orcas.

On Tuesday, on a trip run by Capt. Slater Moore, the orcas were encountered outside of Moss Landing.

“We watched them eat a couple of sea lions. Then as they traveled out of the bay one of the younger ones [tossed] a jellyfish in her mouth,” Moore wrote on Instagram.

Moore also joked: “I guess sea nettles taste like Jolly Ranchers?!?!”

Kate Cummings, owner of Blue Ocean Whale Watch, was aboard Moore’s boat and described the family group as “grabbing sea nettle jellies as they went,” after the sea lion predation.

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Sea nettles are jellies (jellyfish) whose tentacles can span 10-plus feet. Stinging cells paralyze small prey items, which are carried by “mouthy-arms” to the jellies’ mouths, according to the Monterey Bay Aquarium.

Orca slurps sea nettle. Photo: ©Kate Cummings

Moore and Cummings told FTW Outdoors that the orcas seemed to be playing with and not preying upon the sea nettles.

“I don’t think they swallowed any of the jellies,” Moore said.

The four orcas are cataloged as the CA202s by the California Killer Whale Project. They include a mom and her three offspring.

The same rarely encountered group – the mother is nicknamed Smiley because of a distinct marking in her saddle – was documented playing with sea nettles on Feb. 6.

Orca carries sea nettle. Photo: ©Tory Kallman

Passengers and crew aboard a Monterey Bay Whale Watch vessel watched as two of the orca siblings carried what might have been the same sea nettle at different times in the bay.

Tory Kallman captured footage of the oldest sibling (a male) swimming behind a GoPro camera with the sea nettle dangling from his chin.

Capt. Nancy Black, owner of Monterey Bay Whale Watch and co-founder of the California Killer Whale Project, told FTW Outdoors that the orcas seemed to be playing with the jelly “like a dog plays with a ball.”

Black also said that these particular orcas might simply enjoy the stinging sensation generated by tentacles touching their tongues.

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