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Humpback Heroes: Remarkable Encounter Off Antarctica’s Icy Coast

A gripping showdown between two of the ocean’s giants unfolded off the icy coast of Antarctica, leaving viewers in awe as humpback whales came to the rescue of Weddell seals, with National Geographic Explorer and BAFTA Award-winning cinematographer Bertie Gregory capturing the dramatic scene for the world to witness.

Gregory, known for his daring expeditions and remarkable wildlife cinematography, was on a mission to film the elusive B1 killer whales, a species teetering on the edge of extinction with an estimated population of just 100 individuals. These apex predators are renowned for their unique hunting tactics, particularly “wave washing,” a cooperative strategy used to force their favorite prey, the Weddell seal, into the frigid waters of the Antarctic.

The encounter took an unexpected twist when two humpback whales intervened as the B1 orcas closed in on a Weddell seal, which can weigh up to a staggering 1,200 pounds. While their valiant efforts ultimately couldn’t save the seal’s life, the intervention of the humpbacks highlighted an intriguing phenomenon: one marine species coming to the aid of another.

Scientists theorize that the humpback whales’ intervention may be driven by a desire to protect their own. Killer whales, including the B1s, occasionally target humpback whale calves as prey, which could explain why the adult humpbacks try to thwart any killer whale hunt they encounter.

The extraordinary interaction between B1 killer whales and humpback whales has been captured in the latest episode of the natural history series ANIMALS UP CLOSE WITH BERTIE GREGORY, titled Antarctic Killer Waves. Viewers can delve into this captivating moment and learn more about this breaking news on NatGeo.com.

To capture this rarely observed behavior, Bertie Gregory and his team deployed state-of-the-art drones from the air, while a gyro-stabilized camera on their boat ensured steady shots of the action. The stunning visuals and gripping encounter provide an unprecedented glimpse into the dynamic and complex world of Antarctica’s marine life.

The expedition itself was no small feat. Bertie and his team embarked on a grueling seven-day, 1,000-mile boat journey through the treacherous waters of the Drake Passage, one of the roughest stretches of ocean on Earth. Their journey south along the Antarctic Peninsula led them to the Gullet, a narrow channel known for its challenging navigation, which eventually took them deep into the heart of Antarctica. Here, as winter transformed into spring, chunks of ice broke off from the massive ice sheets, providing resting places for Weddell seals between their feeding sessions.

The B1 killer whales’ hunting techniques are a testament to their intelligence and teamwork, with wave washing being a hallmark strategy unique to this species. Orcas have also been observed swimming under ice floes in swift formation, exerting enough force to shatter the ice and further isolate their prey.

The breathtaking footage captured by Bertie Gregory and his team sheds light on the incredible world hidden beneath the icy waters of Antarctica, showcasing the marvels of nature and the intricate interactions between its inhabitants.

As this groundbreaking episode airs on Disney+ Original series ANIMALS UP CLOSE WITH BERTIE GREGORY on September 13, viewers will have the opportunity to witness this remarkable encounter and gain a deeper appreciation for the delicate balance of life in Antarctica’s unforgiving environment.

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