Whale of a Feast

Over the last four years, researchers have been watching a grisly scene unfold in the ocean: pods of orcas tearing unsuspecting blue whales into grisly chunks.

This year has already been chock full of incidents of orcas attacking and even sinking boats. These strange new trends have puzzled experts, raising difficult-to-answer questions. How are they learning these behaviors? Are they even new or are we simply paying more attention to them?

Experts who spoke with Live Science now suggest that it's likely a mix of a number of factors. Orcas are bright and highly sociable mammals, capable of teaching each other new things — including, possibly, how to tear new forms of prey into pieces.

This kind of social learning by adult orcas "will be passed along," as Robert Pitman, a marine ecologist at Oregon State University's Marine Mammal Institute, told Live Science. Taking down the biggest animal on Earth is no easy feat, after all, and "requires cooperation and coordination."

Tongue Tied

Learning new behaviors like this can have negative consequences for the orcas as well, with an increasing number of the beasts getting caught in fishing gear off the coast of Alaska after teaching each other to eat groundfish.

"This behavior may be being shared between individuals, and that's maybe why we're seeing an increase in some of these mortality events," Josh McInnes, a marine ecologist who studies orcas at the University of British Columbia, told Live Science.

But there's also a good chance that some of these orca behaviors aren't a new phenomenon at all — we're just observing it properly for the first time thanks to increased interest in the animals.

For instance, as previous research has shown, orcas love to swim inside the mouths of their prey to eat their tongue first, as was seen in recent blue whale attacks. That's likely because they have their 'preferred cuts of meat'" just like humans, Pitman told Live Science.

Fortunately, as far as humans are concerned, orcas are unlikely to start hunting us as savagely as blue whales. According to scientists, we simply don't rank high enough on their list of preferred meals.

More on orcas: Furious Orcas Throw Around Yacht "Like a Ragdoll"

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