Incredible Footage Shows Orca Save Humpback Whale Trapped in Nets

Remarkable footage that appears to show a group of orca saving a humpback whale tangled in netting has been filmed in Australia.

The video was taken by Whale Watch Western Australia on Monday (January 10,) which said it was the first known sighting of orca seeming to help another species in the region in this way.

In the footage, taken in the Bremer Bay area off the coast of Western Australia, a humpback whale is seen struggling close to the surface of the water. One of several orca then approaches at speed and circles the animal.

Whale Watch Western Australia said that its actions and that of that of other orca during the incident helped free the whale from much of the netting it was entangled in.

This is the first time such behaviour had been recorded in Australian waters, the group said.

"There have been many stories and recordings in the past of orca collaborating/helping humans," a spokesperson for Whale Watch Western Australia told Newsweek. "Currently in Australian waters this is the first known event that has taken place where orca have appeared to help another species. Watching this unfold was a true privilege to witness and completely unexpected."

Orca filmed helping Humpback Whale
Orca seem to help free humpback whale tangled in nets off the coast of Western Australia. It is thought to be the first recorded sighting of orca helping another species in this way in the area. Whale Watch Western Australia

The group said that orca are known to prey on humpbacks in the area, making the behaviour they witnessed even more remarkable. They said the humpback whale appeared weak and vulnerable to predators, and that its state may have persuaded the orca against hunting it.

"The Humpback Whale was unwell and malnourished after being entangled for a long period of time," the spokesperson said. "Orca are highly intelligent and will understand that the quality of food that they would receive from this humpback would be very poor... after a closer inspection of the Humpback they decided to let him swim free instead."

Orca seen helping Humpback Whale
The humpback whale was freed from much of the netting it had been tangled in during the encounter with the orca. Orca boast the second-largest brains of any animal and are considered highly intelligent. Whale Watch Western Australia

Orca are believed to be highly intelligent animals. Studies have shown these animals exhibit various behaviours associated with higher cognitive intelligence including communication, learning-based cooperation and even cultural variation.

Orca are thought to form strong emotional engagement with others, raising a tantalizing possibility behind their actions that seemed to help save the humpback whale during the encounter.

"Orca have the second largest brain on the planet and it is believed they have strong emotional connections with their pod members, they will grieve the loss of a family member," the spokesperson for Whale Watch Western Australia said.

"A strong emotional connection to family members may be on the rare occasion extended to other species but it has not been well documented as yet."