Monday, June 16, 2008

just when you thought it was safe*

Orcas have been known to co-operate with humans in the hunting of whales. One well-known example occurred near the port of Eden in South-Eastern Australia in between 1840 and 1930. A pod of Orcas, which included amongst its members a distinctive male called Old Tom, would assist whalers in hunting baleen whales. The Orcas would find the target whales, shepherd them into Twofold Bay and then alert the whalers to their presence and often help to kill the whales. Old Tom's role was commonly to alert the human whalers to the presence of a baleen whale in the bay by breaching or tailslapping at Kiah river mouth where the Davidson family had their tiny cottages. This role endeared him to the whalers and led to the idea that he was "leader of the pack", although such a role was more likely taken by a female as is more typical in Orca cultures. After the harpooning, some of the Orcas would even grab the ropes in their teeth and aid the whalers in hauling. The skeleton of Old Tom is on display at the Eden Killer Whale Museum, and significant wear marks still exist on his teeth from repeatedly grabbing fast moving ropes. In return for their help, the whalers allowed the Orcas to eat the tongue and lips of the whale before hauling it ashore. The Orcas would then also feed on the many fish and birds that would show up to pick at the smaller scraps and runoff from the fishing. The behaviour was recorded in detail in the 1840s by whaling overseer Sir Oswald Brierly and recorded in his extensive diaries. It was recorded in numerous publications over the period and witnesses included Australian members of Parliament. The behaviour was recorded on movie film in 1910 by C.B Jenkins and C.E. Wellings and publicly projected in Sydney although the film is now missing. In 2005, the Australia Broadcasting Corporation produced a documentary "Killers in Eden" on the subject. The documentary featured numerous period photographs taken by C.E. Wellings and W. T. Hall of the phenomenon and also featured interviews with elderly eyewitnesses.

Thanks, wikipedia!

*Alternate title: Just when you thought killer whales couldn't be any more awesome (they can).

1 comment:

Brad said...

What a bloodthirsty bunch. Since they really did not receive much payment for their help, one can only assume it was the joy of killing and causing suffering that motivated them. Hooray killer whales!!