Seal attempts to hide from killer whales in rare footage

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Seal attempts to hide from killer whales in rare footage
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Dramatic footage captured in Shetland has been released that shows a harbour seal trying to evade a pod of hungry killer whales by taking refuge in a mussel farm.

The seal was seen surrounded by eight orcas on the hunt for food north of Lerwick, on March 6.

Local drone pilot Nick McCaffrey captured the 38 minutes of the dramatic chase, which saw the seal hide between two lines of mussel ropes at Grunna Voe farm.

The seal can be seen gliding in between the ropes, as the killer whales edge closer, in previously undocumented behaviour.

However, the predators pounced when the seal ventured out of safety, swiftly dispatching their prey.

The footage underwent analysis by Emily Hague, a PhD student at Heriot-Watt University, Scotland, who is researching the impact human activities have on marine animals - including man-made structures such as fish farms, and off-shore energy developments.

Ms Hague said: “Interactions involving man-made structures are rarely, if ever, caught on camera.

“This makes this footage extra special and very insightful from a scientific point of view.”

She added that the film provides a “new perspective” on how marine life and man-made structures co-exist in the sea.

She said: “It’s fascinating that these novel structures in the marine environment are potentially being used by prey to hide from predators.”

“Last year a juvenile member of this killer group died entangled in rope and was found on Orkney.

“If this group is spending a lot of time around marine structures, then this may have associated risks, like entanglement.”

Mr McCaffrey captured the footage after he and fellow wildlife enthusiasts were alerted to the orcas’ arrival by the Shetland Orca Sightings Facebook page, managed by wildlife photographer Hugh Harrop.

He traced the pod’s route, as the orcas travelled from just south of Lerwick, to Grunna Voe.

Ms Hague has published her analysis of the incident in the latest Aquatics Mammals journal, out on July 15.

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