Whale watchers witnessed quite a grueling battle this week when a group of twenty orcas attacked a female gray whale and its calf off the California coast, the San Francisco Chronicle reports. Like a pack of coyotes, the orcas tried separating the child from its mother—who fought back valiantly for more than two hours. The orcas "came in waves, like attacking swarms of hockey players," said Bart Selby, who photographed the whole fight in Monterey Bay (the Chronicle has eleven pics). When one orca group grew weary, it would move out and orbit "while a new swarm of orcas pressed the attack," he said. The calf tried to survive by hiding behind her mom, hiding her tail on mom's spine, tucking in her flipper, and even lying on top of her.
"We could see a lot of struggling going on," a whale watcher told the Daily News. Finally the orcas grabbed the baby and pulled it under the surface to drown it. "I’ve been around enough to know that nature is cruel, but it was hard to watch," said Selby. At feeding time, the orcas jumped from the water and slapped their tales in apparent celebration—as the mother gray quickly swam off, and gulls dived by the hundreds to feed on remains floating to the surface. Such attacks aren't uncommon, the Chronicle notes—an orca group killed a baby whale and a curious sea lion a few days before. You can see the latest fight on YouTube. (Read more whales stories.)