Do Orcas eat Moose? The killer whale may not be an actual whale, but it’s definitely a killer.
Orcas have been known to kill the largest creature on earth, the blue whale, and even take down one of the ocean’s most significant predators – the great white shark.
Is there no end to appetite? With rumors of orcas preying on Moose, it would seem not.
Although moose spend most of their lives on land, munching away on trees, they do venture into the water from time to time.
Is the orca fast enough to grasp that opportunity when it presents itself? Let’s find out.
Do Orcas Eat Moose?
Why would one of the top marine predators and the largest member of the deer family have anything to do with each other?
One lives in the sea, the other spends its life on land… or does it? Moose do venture into the water fairly regularly and are surprisingly adept swimmers.
Given the orca’s capacity for hunting, it wouldn’t necessarily need to set a single foot in the water to fall victim to a killer whale attack.
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In some parts of the world, orcas leave the safety of the seas to secure themselves the perfect snack – a young seal pup.
Using the waves as their cover, orcas off Argentina’s Valdes Peninsula surprise the young pups by leaping onto the beach.
Then, once their meal is secured, they wait for the next big wave to wash them back into the ocean.
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Scientists thought that such behavior occurred only off the Valdes Peninsula for a long time, but recent reports suggest that other killer whale pods are adopting similar hunting techniques.
In 2016, transient or Bigg’s killer whales were “seen deliberately running aground to ambush prey.”
This wasn’t happening in Argentina but rather in the national wildlife refuge of Protection Island in Washington State.
How Often do Orcas Eat Moose?
If orcas can beach themselves to grab a seal pup, there’s no reason they couldn’t grab a hungry moose that strayed too close to the water.
The truth is, orcas don’t have to work that hard if they want a meal of Moose because, at certain times of the year, the Moose will come to them.
Moose may not look like aquatic animals, and they’re not, but they are far more at home in the water than you might expect.
Moose have several physiological adaptations that enable them to feed on aquatic vegetation during periods when the land has little to offer.
Do Moose Go in the Sea?
Moose live in forested areas throughout the northern United States, Canada, and Alaska.
They are predominantly land animals that feed exclusively on plant matter. Their favorite foods include the twigs and leaves of woody plants and trees.
For most of the year, they browse on aspen, birch, maple, and mountain ash, among other plants.
In summer, however, their diet changes, and they rely on aquatic and riparian vegetation, which they source in ponds and streams.
Foraging in water also affords the Moose some relief from the hot summer weather.
With its thick, insulating coat, the Moose is prone to overheating and easily “stressed by summer temperatures as low as 60℉.”
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Are Moose Good Swimmers?
Despite their somewhat gangly appearance, Moose are surprisingly agile swimmers, capable of reaching speeds of over 9kph.
That may not sound very fast, but when you consider that top swimmers like Michael Phelps only reach just over 6 kph, it makes you realize just how fast they’re traveling.
Moose do have some advantages over humans, one of them being an inbuilt buoyancy aid.
Each of the hairs on a moose’s body is completely hollow. This adaptation means that air can be trapped inside each hair, acting as a layer of insulation.
The air within each hair prevents the Moose from losing heat and stops the cold air from reaching its skin.
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Another benefit of hollow hair is that the air trapped within it acts as a type of buoyancy aid, making it easier for the Moose to stay afloat while foraging for aquatic plants.
Moose also have large lungs that add to their weightlessness in water. Those large lungs also help them hold their breath underwater.
Moose can stay completely submerged for a full minute, closing their nostrils like a pair of valves to stop the water from flowing in.
Why do Moose Swim in the Ocean?
Although Moose are more likely to forage in ponds and streams, as this video shows, nothing is stopping them from enjoying a cooling swim in the sea from time to time.
These two moose were spotted testing the temperatures of the Arctic Ocean off the coast of Paulatuk in Canada’s Northwest Territories.
It’s not clear what motivated them to enter the water, but witnesses suspect it was purely out of curiosity.
The Moose isn’t the only curious creature in the sea, however, and should a pod of orcas have been passing at the time, it’s unlikely either of these adolescents would have survived the encounter.
Moose will sometimes swim between islands searching for food and other deer species. This puts them in the direct path of the Bigg’s, or transient, killer whales.
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Unlike the resident orcas that inhabit the Pacific coast between the U.S. and Canada, transient killer whales enjoy a widely varied diet.
Resident killer whales restrict themselves almost exclusively to salmon, but transient killer whales will eat mammals and almost anything they can get their sizable teeth into.
That includes sharks, stingrays, seals, porpoises, dolphins, and other whales. It may even include the occasional Moose.
How do Killer whales eat Moose?
Killer whales are extraordinarily intelligent animals, capable of adapting their hunting techniques to suit the behavior of different prey species.
As we mentioned earlier, off the coast of Argentina, killer whales will even beach themselves to secure a meal of fresh seal pup.
In Norway, orcas perform a highly coordinated “ballet” as they hunt for herring.
Each individual within the pod has a different role to play in the ballet. Some are responsible for diving beneath the herring and forcing them towards the surface.
Others loop around the school, “blowing bubbles, calling, and flashing their white bellies to frighten the herring.”
These hunting techniques couldn’t be more distinct from those employed by the orcas that target blue whales off the coast of Australia.
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Rather than driving the whale to the surface, the orcas push it underwater, sometimes even using their powerful bodies to block the blowhole.
Unable to breathe, the whale soon weakens, at which point the orcas attack the head, targeting the whale’s nutrient-rich tongue.
Given the range of hunting techniques available to these intelligent marine mammals, it seems unlikely that a gangly moose with a top swimming speed of 6kph would last very long.
The potential for orcas to take down Moose is undeniable, but whether or not it truly happens is still open to speculation.
No one has ever witnessed a pod of orca attacking a moose, but some moose carcasses suggest that it might have happened.
Is There any Proof of Orcas Eating Moose?
When a few moose carcasses appeared off the coast of Vancouver in Canada, their injuries suggested that they may have fallen victim to an orca attack.
The lacerations covering the Moose’s bodies were “consistent with orca bites,” suggesting that these oversized dolphins had at least fed on the Moose, even if they hadn’t killed it.
The evidence provided by the moose carcasses makes it difficult to ascertain whether the orca had actually hunted the Moose or simply scavenged on its already dead body.
Either way, they appeared to have got some nutrition from the meal.
According to the authors of Transients: Mammal-hunting Killer Whales of British Columbia, Washington, and Southeastern Alaska, it’s not unknown for an orca to leap out of the water to attack a land mammal.
In one chapter, the authors describe how “a killer whale was observed to surge part way onto shore to attack a dog that was barking loudly at the passing group.”
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They also describe an incident involving “three or four killer whales” and a pair of Moose.
The Moose were swimming across a channel when the orcas attacked, killing one. The other escaped only to drown after becoming entangled in a kelp bed.
The only other evidence supporting the theory that orcas prey on Moose is an eyewitness account of killer whales pursuing a deer off the coast of British Colombia.
Can an Orca Hunt a Moose?
The bizarre event was witnessed by skipper and wildlife photographer Mark Malleson who was somewhat disappointed that no predation took place.
A small pod of killer whales passed within 100 meters of the antlered buck who kept bravely despite their presence.
According to Malleson, the buck appeared disoriented and was swimming well offshore until Malleson intervened.
Using his Zodiac boat, Malleson guided the buck to the nearest island which, while small, would provide him some relief from the effort of swimming.
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It, therefore, seems possible that orcas could either attack a moose close to the edge of the water or pursue it when swimming.
They wouldn’t be the first ocean-dweller to feast on a terrestrial mammal if they did.
Some years ago, researchers were astounded to find “part of the jaw of a young polar bear in the stomach of a Greenland shark.”
Kit Kovacs of the Norwegian Polar Institute said the finding was something of a mystery, “We can’t say whether or not the shark took a swimming young bear,” she said, adding, “We don’t know how active these sharks are as predators.”
We do know how active the killer whale is as a predator, however, and that’s about as active as any predator can be.
So regardless of whether it would leave the water to devour an animal or simply snatch it out of the water, the outcome would be the same.
Why do Killer Whales Eat Moose?
Transient killer whales seem to eat almost anything. One of their favorite meals is the calorie-rich liver of the great white shark, but what does the Moose have to entice these apex predators?
A swimming moose would be an easy target for a pod of orcas. Killer whales have a top speed of 56kph. However, they can’t sustain that speed for very long and spend more time coasting at around 13 kph.
Either way, a moose swimming at just 6kph would be no challenge for these powerful predators.
It’s unlikely they’d get the same level of nutrition from a moose as they do a blue whale’s tongue or a great shark’s liver, but it would still be a decent meal.
The smallest female Moose weighs around 440 lb, while the largest adult male can reach as much as 1200 lb.
As orcas need approximately 500 lb of food a day, a divided between three or four orcas would contribute as much as 60% of their daily nutritional requirements.
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Not only is a moose a sizable meal, but it’s also a nutritious one. Moose meat is “jam-packed with protein” and loaded with essential vitamins and minerals.
A pod of orcas would definitely benefit from eating Moose, even if it isn’t something that regularly appears on their menu.
It’s unlikely that Moose make up a large portion of an orca’s diet, even a transient or Bigg’s orca that’s known to consume almost anything it can sink its teeth into.
Killer whales primarily feed on fish and marine mammals, but they’ll go to extraordinary lengths to vary their diet.
Some killer whales will beach themselves to secure a quick snack, so there’s no reason they wouldn’t attempt to take a moose that strayed too close to the water’s edge.
As Moose are adept swimmers, they may well enter the orca’s natural habitat, exposing themselves to potential predation.
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There is scant evidence to support the theory that orcas are the natural predators of Moose, but there’s enough to suggest that it does happen on occasion.
Orcas are one of the ocean’s top predators, but it seems they may be unwilling to let their supremacy stop there.
Nicky is a British adventurer and animal lover who spends her time exploring the natural world and writing about her experiences. Whether on horseback, underwater, running, hiking or just standing with a fishing rod in hand, she embraces everything her adopted home of South Africa has to offer.