B.C. man captures rare footage of orcas rubbing themselves against beach stones

As one of the most intelligent creatures in the ocean, orca whales have been captured behaving in all sorts of odd ways. Naturally curious, they are quick to investigate humans, as we saw in this video of an orca pod visiting a delighted (and maybe a little terrified) paddleboarder.

Orca have also developed unique hunting strategies which require co-operation and advanced underwater communication. But all of these behaviours have to do with survival. So what about recreation?

This particular video is quite baffling at first glace. A handful of orcas swim close to the shore, sliding along the shallows on their sides. One by one they take turns repeating this peculiar ritual, which is called “rubbing.” While it’s hard to say for sure, this appears to be a pleasurable activity for the whales—a technique used to massage their thick skin on the smooth pebbles.

The video was taken by YouTube user Chris Wilton at a beach near Campbell River in British Columbia’s Discovery Islands. According to scientists this behaviour is uncommon and only practiced by northern resident orca whales. It’s possible the behaviour was invented by a small group and passed down to their offspring, which would explain why it hasn’t spread to other pods.