Animals

Orca Punts Seal 80 Feet Into the Air

With just a flick of his tail, a male orca recently sent a seal skyward 80 feet.

A male orca recently punted a harbor seal approximately 80 feet into the air with its tail, according to a film crew who recorded the entire event in waters off of Victoria, British Columbia.

Orcas, also known as killer whales, are known to stun seals with their tails, but such a forceful punt is rare.

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The film crew from Roll.Focus.Productions shot the footage while working on a promotional video for Eagle Wing Whale Watching Tours.

The group of orcas shown in the video is known as the T69s. Researchers, such as those from the Center for Whale Research in Washington State, do indeed make reference to the T69s, as well as other similarly named orca groups.

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The strong male who punted the seal is named "T69C," and was born in 1995. According to NOAA, orcas can live to be around 50–80 years old, so T696 is still very much in its prime.

Cetacean researcher Chris Parsons explained the seal tossing behavior to the Earth Touch News Network: "They don't often eat the seals (after hitting them). But when they hit Dall's porpoises, they do it to eviscerate them. They hit them so hard that their entrails pop out, which they leave behind after eating the muscle and blubber."

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It is hard to imagine that the poor seal shown in the video survived the ordeal. Orcas do feast on such animals, along with fish, squid, sea lions, penguins, dolphins, porpoises, and even large whales, like the blue whale.

Technically, killer whales are not whales at all. They are instead members of the Delphinidae (dolphin) family.

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Like dolphins, orcas often engage in cooperative hunting, where several animals within the pod participate. In this case, however, T69C appears to have acted on its own.

With so many videos like this going viral, there is an incentive for filmmakers to get very close to wildlife, hoping for the perfect shot. The good news here is that the crew reports that they "filmed from a safe distance under the guidance of Transport Canada and the Department of Fisheries & Oceans."

This airborne seal was just kicked into the air by an orca’s tail.

Thanks to an effort by the Vancouver Aquarium and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Fisheries department, scientists have used an unmanned aerial vehicle -- or a drone -- to monitor the health, movement and reproduction of killer whales. The team tracked northern resident killer whales off British Columbia, a group currently designated as threatened by the Species at Risk Act in Canada. Its custom-made hexacopter flew more than 100 feet above the whales -- far enough out of mind that the whales would not notice but still close enough to get tons of great detail. Killer whales travel in a family group for the better part of their lives. This family group includes a two-year-old calf (second from top), and a young-of-the-year (middle).

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At issue for the team was a central question: Are the whales able to find enough food? These whales, like their British Columbia southern resident counterparts near Seattle, eat Chinook salmon, which are far smaller than they used to be. (Some of the salmon runs are also endangered, the NOAA says.) Here, two northern resident killer whales are photographed by the hexacopter. The whale on the left is in very poor condition and is thought by the researchers to have recently perished. The whale on the right, luckily, is considered healthy and in peak condition.

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The drone photos can show scientists how fat or thin individual whales are, as well as which ones are pregnant and which calves are brought to term. In this photo, the female at top appears skinny and in poor condition. The female in the middle seems to be healthy and well fed. The whale at bottom is pregnant, the bulge in her body evident behind the rib cage.

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A yearly census of mortality is not the most helpful of measures for how well a whale population is doing, the team says. That's because any problems the whales experience have already occurred and taken the whales' lives. The hexacopter "can give us a more sensitive measure that we might be able to respond to before whales die," said NOAA biologist John Durban in a release.

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While the team's research permit allowed it to use a 100-foot limit above the whales for its studies, non-research permits restrict hexacopter approaches to, at closest, 1,000 feet above the creatures.

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Here, a moment of playful behavior is caught between two killer whales, as they nuzzle each other, head-to-head.

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