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Orcas Exhibit Rare Beach-Rubbing Behavior

Feb 04, 2015 01:01 PM EST

In a stroke of good luck, a group of Canadian beachgoers has caught on camera orcas exhibiting rare beach-rubbing behavior, which still eludes scientists.

[Credit: Chris Wilton]

At a beach in British Columbia's Discovery Islands near Campbell River, an amateur photographer spotted at least four northern resident orcas circling the beach and taking turns rubbing themselves on the smooth, small stones.

The video, posted Jan. 28 by Chris Wilton on YouTube, has since had over 200,000 views.

"Holy, moley," one of the whale watchers says in the video. "This is crazy...probably feels like a nice massage."

"Jesus!" another person could be heard saying.

According to Jackie Hildering, who runs a blog called "The Marine Detective," these massage-seeking orcas belong to the A42 matriline.

"Absolutely remarkable footage of northern resident orcas with their culturally unique behavior of rubbing themselves on beaches like this," she said on the Orcas Network's Facebook page.

"I happen to be with whale researchers Janie Wray and Christie McMillan, and we believe these whales are the A42 matriline. The big male is very distinct. He is A66 born in 1996," she added. (Scroll to read on...)

CBC News notes that while the meaning of this bizarre behavior remains a mystery, scientists theorize that it's a habit that young orcas learn and is passed down from one generation to the next. Catching orcas in the act is extremely rare, and so it's hard to study - especially given that this conduct is reportedly unique to northern resident orca whales.

According to National Geographic, orcas, which are actually the largest of dolphins, prefer cold, coastal waters, and swim as far as from the polar regions to the Equator. And recent research that aimed to get a glimpse into the life of wild orcas found that northern resident orcas in particular are considered threatened under Canada's Species At Risk Act. Scientists hope that by learning more about these marine mammals they may better be able to preserve the species.

For more great nature science stories and general news, please visit our sister site, Headlines and Global News (HNGN).

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