“The baby was hanging out of his mouth,” cetacean researcher and study coauthor Jared Towers told the Washington Post. “I knew right off the bat — I study killer whales pretty intensively — that this was a ‘first of its kind’ kind of observation.”
“We were a bit horrified, but more so I think we were fascinated,” Towers added. “We knew that it was time to just collect as much data as we could to accurately record our observations.”
“Consistent with findings in other social mammals, we suggest that infanticide is a sexually selected behaviour in killer whales that could provide subsequent mating opportunities for the infanticidal male and thereby provide inclusive fitness benefits for his mother,” authors of the study wrote.
Killer whales gestate fetuses for 17–18 months and then nurse their offspring. While nursing, they cannot become pregnant with another calf.
“I think we don’t give a lot of animals enough credit for their ability to plan and think ahead, but I think that’s exactly what was happening here,” Towers told National Geographic. “He and his mom both knew that if the baby was removed he might have a chance at breeding.”
Ellie Hall is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Washington, DC. Her secure PGP fingerprint is 6055 A264 DADD AADC 347E 5986 547C C11C DD7D 176A.
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