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Tragic Footage Shows Orcas Trying to Save Their Dying Companion

Last Gasp

A dying adult orca in the wild has been captured on camera in what is believed to be first-of-its-kind footage, Live Science reports.

The unfortunate orca, a 35-year-old male nicknamed "Hunchy," was apparently acting strangely when he was spotted by whale watchers on November 6 during an expedition in the Lopphavet sea off the northern coast of Norway.

According to Pierre Robert de Latour, an orca expert who was part of the expedition, two young killer whales appeared to be trying to hold Hunchy above water so he could still breathe.

But their attempts seemed "desperate," de Latour told Live Science. "It was obvious that he was in trouble."

A veteran diver with years of experience snorkeling with orcas, de Latour swam up and recorded the tragic scene. Hunchy looked skinny and starved as he drifted through the water motionless, his younger companions frantically swimming between him and a nearby pod in an apparent attempt to "activate" him.

"It's the first time for me seeing something like this. I recognized him — it was very emotional — and then I saw his giant body sinking," de Latour told Live Science. "It is said that orcas don't abandon individuals that are in trouble."

After 50 minutes, the young orcas, fighting "until the very last moment," finally gave up, and Hunchy was left to sink to the bottom of the sea.

Burial at Sea

Orcas are incredibly intelligent creatures. Their recent attacks on unsuspecting yachts — seemingly teaching themselves how to immobilize or even sink them — are a terrifying testament to their guile. Even blue whales can be at their mercy as orcas devise brutal ways of taking them down, too.

But like many other whales, orcas are also emotionally intelligent, with complex feelings and social lives.

"We know that orcas show very specific behaviors when calves die," Filipa Samarra, founder and principal investigator of the Icelandic Orca Project, told Live Science.

"They have been observed numerous times carrying them, pushing them to the surface, and this can go on for many days."

This may be the first time, however, that the death of an adult orca has been caught on tape, further illuminating the social responses and rituals of these creatures.

"To my knowledge, the death of an adult member of the group, and how the other [orcas] behave in that instance when an adult is dying, is something that has not been observed before," Samarra told Live Science.

De Latour said his crew didn’t stick around long enough to confirm that Hunchy wasn't somehow miraculously saved at the last second, but the odds that the poor fellow survived are slim at best. May Hunchy rest in peace.

More on orcas: Orcas May Be Teaching Each Other How to Brutalize Blue Whales