Killer Whale Dangerous To Humans – Editor’s Note: This is an excerpt from “The Killer Whale Who Changed the World” by journalist and filmmaker Mark Leiren-Young. The book begins with a description of the 1964 killer whale hunt near Saturna Island (one of the Canadian Gulf Islands about 10 miles off the coast of Washington state). The hunt is led by Samuel Burich, a sculptor hired by the Vancouver Aquarium to recreate a life-size killer whale, and Josef Bauer, a commercial fisherman.
The little orca floating on Saturn wasn’t breathing, but the two large whales holding the surface, waiting for a blast from their pod’s spray hole, weren’t about to give up. For killer whales, breathing is not an automatic action. If an orca is unconscious, it will not breathe, and must stay under the surface to breathe. A killer orca can hold its breath underwater for about fifteen minutes—long enough to outrun humans who confuse it—but an unconscious whale won’t live long. And if these whales regain consciousness in the water and gasp for air, they can suffocate and suffocate before reaching the surface. As the shock flared and consciousness faded, Burich’s victim suffocated. He is about five years old. This means that one of the whales trying to save him was probably terrified of his mother or grandmother. The two large whales took them as injured pod mates. Is he dead?
Killer Whale Dangerous To Humans
A grieving mother orca can hold her dead calf afloat for days and transport it hundreds of miles.
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The whales outside of Saturn know that their friends are not dead. Killer whales can see just as well as humans. Anyone who has seen a killer and thought it was staring back at them through the water or through the glass walls of an aquarium tank is probably right. Orcas can see well enough not only to identify other creatures, but also to identify depictions of other creatures in paintings or photographs. They can also recognize themselves in a mirror, a test scientists use to determine self-awareness and intelligence.
But sight isn’t the most useful sense when you’re diving in a hundred meters of dark water. Orcas listen using a sense called echolocation that works like sonar technology. By emitting sound waves and tracking the echoes as they bounce off their targets, these whales can find and “see” anything in the water. When these two whales sent a signal from the front of their heads—the bow—they could feel the injured whale’s heart beating rapidly, hearing their babies suffocate as water entered their lungs.
Orcas can hear each other’s calls from over ten kilometers away. Their senses are so acute that they can dive to the bottom of a pool to find and retrieve objects half the size of a wedding ring. There’s a blind Marvel comic book hero—Daredevil—whose hearing is enhanced this way, which makes him dangerous enough to defeat an army of ninjas. Orcs have basically the same superpowers. They don’t just “see” objects; it is possible to place what is inside. There is anecdotal evidence to suggest that they can detect whether a female of our species is pregnant before the mother is pregnant. So these whales know that their pod organs are still working and won’t last much longer. Orcas will work together for weeks to support and transport their injured partners, risking their own health.
People who have spent a lot of time around these whales suspect that they also have a sixth sense, or at least an extraordinary sense of time. Ever since Burich and Bauer and the other men in their original hunting party arrived with guns, the whales had drifted away from their regular fishing grounds, a path they had probably followed for thousands of years. Maybe this is a fluke, maybe the salmon is somewhere else. And maybe it’s just a coincidence that the killer whale only came back this morning, after abandoning the attack plan, that the gun should be gone.
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Veteran orca watchers and longtime researchers have stories of whale escapes. You’ll be notified of waiting orcas right up until the camera is gone—or the film runs out or the battery dies—before they do something spectacular. Is it too difficult to ask whether they sense friend or foe? Some longtime whale watchers are convinced that orcas will act when given the chance to love the humans they are trying to save. Author Erich Hoyt says
: “Ardent whalers—I’ve heard them talk—suggest that the nice troops, the ‘crowd-pleasers,’ know their destiny is that of mankind, and are on their best behavior with us, making the last show as before. the great curtain, the disappearance, the fall.”
Killer whales have also helped humans hunt. In North America and Australia, there are stories of orcas herding fish—and other whales—to make them easier for fishermen to catch. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, orcas near Australia’s Eden would take humpback whales to an area known as Twofold Bay in exchange for their favorite cuts of meat: tongues and lips. For over a hundred years killer whales have worked as killer whales, this working relationship is called the “law of language” by the local fishermen.
According to the Eden Killer Whaling Museum, “In the early years of whaling in Eden in the 1840s there were about 50 killer whales divided into 3 main pods. The three pods worked together. A pod placed far out to sea would scare the whale to shore, another pod would attack the whale. he says and another pod will be placed in front of the whale if he loses.” The whale that was said to be his leader was a twenty-two-foot, thirteen-thousand-pound killer whale named Old Tom. After catching a humpback, Tom would wake up the whalers by slapping his tail over and over again. breaking (jumping). water and landing with a splash) to call a human to end the kill. There is also a story about fishermen entering shark-infested waters when their boat was surrounded by a humpback and Tom and another orca chased the shark and saved his mate’s life.
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In 1923, when a local whaler injured Tom in a tug that refused to share his catch and damaged his teeth, most pods stopped herding the whales, proving that this was not natural behavior. It’s a job, and if the orcas aren’t paid, they don’t show up for work. But Tom continued to collect larger whales to get a taste of the tongue. When Tom died in 1930 – missing a tooth – the people of Eden built a whale museum to honor their old mate and display his bones. The Australians at Eden have been working with orcas for almost a hundred years. The indigenous people of the area, the Koori, are believed to have worked in harmony with the whales for ten thousand years. And anyone who has seen a killer whale in captivity knows that it can be trained to do anything in the water. Killer orcas know how to work with—and save—humans, but humans rarely want to help killers.
The whales near Saturn knew what humans were doing when they approached their ships. Humans shoot them. But when Burich and Bauer close in, the orcas can’t move fast or far, even if they risk being hugged like their pods. They will not let the children drown.
In the early 1970s, Michael Bigg worked as a marine mammal researcher at the Canadian Department of Fisheries, and part of his job was to assess the killer whale population while the orcas were being captured and exhibited in marine parks. Fishermen and orca “harvesters” believe that thousands, perhaps tens, of wild whales roam the Pacific coast.
The initial plan was to tag the orcas, but after speaking with Vancouver Aquarium curator Murray Newman, Bigg came up with a more radical idea: simultaneous observations. During the weekend, volunteers stationed on the beach will spot and count the killer whales. Bigg sent a questionnaire to fifteen thousand people who live and work in the water and asked them to report any whale sightings on July 26, 1971. Only 549 whales were seen between California and Alaska by volunteer explorers.
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The first census surprised everyone. It seems unlikely that there are only a few hundred killer whales in the region. Later, Bigg used a sharper and more controversial approach. In 1973, he and Ian MacAskie—his colleague at the Canadian Pacific Biological Station in Nanaimo—were studying whales in Johnstone Strait when they realized that individuals could be distinguished by the grooves, scratches and markings on their dorsal fins and the shape of their fins. Each “patch” whale: a single pattern located
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