A scientist was delighted when a juvenile killer whale swam toward her in Antarctic waters off New Zealand and head-butted her camera. The whale then opened his mammoth mouth and displayed a partially eaten toothfish between its jaws.
Regina Eisert said she believes the whale may have wanted to share the meal with her — or was simply showing off.
Elsert spotted the Orca approaching as she was standing on the edge of sea ice last week while doing research for Antarctica New Zealand, a government agency that studies and protects the area environment. She said she had just enough time to set up her “whalfie stick” (a whale selfie mount) before it approached.
“It made a beeline, bumped the camera with its nose, opened its mouth and showed me a piece of toothfish inside as though it was trying to get me to take it,” she said, per the New Zealand Herald. “It was really special. The only way I can describe it is like when a cat offers you a mouse.”
Elsert, a marine mammal expert from the University of Canterbury, said such an experience was a first for her, though she had once heard of a leopard seal offering a penguin to a diver.
Elsert’s close encounter occurred just as she was finishing her research for the season in the Ross Sea region Marine Protected Area. She has been studying the diet of the Orcas in the area, and how they might be affected by the availability of toothfish.
“Here I am carrying out research to help protect the Ross Sea region and find out whether or not the whales eat toothfish, and one comes up showing me it does,” she said.