Yesterday I posted a blog about Sharks, Natures Killing Machine…I found out that sharks get all the bad raps, but that there are some even bigger badder creatures lurking under the placid blue surface of the ocean….In my research I found out some interesting facts about Orcas, or so called killer whales, and they too have been given a bad rap……Sharks are fish, and breathe through their gills, although they deliver their offspring live, not as eggs… Whales are mammals and need air to breathe, and of course also deliver their offspring alive……But so called “killer whales” are relatively benign, like their dolphin family bloodlines would indicate, and do not harm humans…
Female killer whales can grow up to 26 feet (7.9 meters) with a 3 foot dorsal fin, while males are larger than the females, growing up to 28 feet (8.5 meters) with a 6 foot (1.3 meters) dorsal fin. Killer whales have 48 to 52 teeth that are large and conical shaped as well as slightly curved back and inward. There are no official killer whale worldwide population estimates. There are minimum counts in local areas. For example, approximately 1000 whales have been individually identified in Alaskan waters through photographs. Killer whales are at the top of the food chain and are not considered endangered.
Though killer whales, also called Orcas, are considered whales by most people, they are actually members of the dolphin family. Orcas, or “killer whales,” are the largest of the dolphins and one of the world’s most powerful predators. Killer whales are excellent hunters that hunt and eat a wide range of prey, including fish, seals, and big whales such as blue whales, as well as great white sharks…. Despite their hunting of other animals, free-ranging killer whales have never been reported killing a human being.…
Killer whales are social animals that live in stable family-related groups. Killer whales display a high level of care for their offspring. In addition to the mothers, various pod members (mainly adolescent females) perform most of the care for the calves. As with most mammals, killer whales are very protective of their young.
The killer whale diet consists of fish, squid, seals, sea lions, penguins, dolphins, porpoises and large whales like the blue whale. Some killer whales have been known to slide on to beaches in order to capture a good meal. Resident pods (pods that primarily reside in one area) prefer fish whereas transient pods (pods that travel over a relatively wide area) appear to target other marine mammals as prey.
Killer whales are very successful hunters due to their cooperative hunting, where all animals within the pod participate. This coordination is apparently developed and learned within the pods…Killer whales have no natural predators (they are the top predators of the oceans) and can live to about 50-80 years old. Killer whales have been hunted by humans but not with enthusiasm as it takes 21 killer whales to produce the same amount of oil as 1 sperm whale.
It is actually the sperm whale, now nearly hunted to extinction that is the real “Killer Whale,” as they are very aggressive and have been know to attack the much more peaceful Orcas as well as sailing boats, especially whaling ships that hunted them relentlessly… From the early eighteenth century through the late 20th, the species was a prime target of whalers. Sperm whales can consume up to a ton of food a day….Adult males can reach up to 60 feet in length, and females up to 36 feet.. Their massive heads makes up to a third of their total body length….
These leviathans are the largest toothed whale and possess the largest brain of any organism on earth…They mostly live on giant squid and other creatures of the deep and pursuing them with the most powerful natural sonar known….
The head of the whale contains a liquid wax called spermaceti, from which the whale derives its name. Spermaceti was used in lubricants, oil lamps, and candles. Ambergis, a waste product from its digestive system, is still used as a fixative in perfumes. Occasionally the sperm whale’s great size allowed it to defend itself effectively against whalers. The species is now protected by a whaling moratorium, and is currently listed as vulnerable.
Many of us have read the the book by Herman Melville or seen the movie “Moby Dick” with Gregory Peck as the obsessed Captain Ahab as he hunts down the Great White Whale that cost him his leg in a desperate, all consuming driven search for revenge…It turns out there was a real life basis for this movie! At the risk of being deemed over wordy in my blog, here is the true life story written at the time….
There was an account published in 1839 that allegedly inspired Herman Melville to write his epic novel “Moby Dick” in 1851….According to this documented account, there was a massive 70 foot long albino sperm whale who was named Mocha Dick in the early 19th century…….. Mocha Dick was given his name as he was first sighted off the coast of Chile near Mocha Island…The whalers that first spotted him attempted to kill him, but he survived the encounter….
Over the course of the next 28 years Mocha Dick earned a reputation as one of the most cunning and feared whales in the ocean. During that span, he was spotted and attacked by at least 100 whaling ships. He successfully destroyed around 20 of those ships that attacked him and escaped all but the last. Here is his true story….
According to famed explorer and writer Jeremiah N. Reynolds, “Mocha Dick finally met his downfall after observing a mother whale whose calf had just been killed by whalers. The mother whale first attempted to herd her calf away from the whalers after it had been harpooned, but soon the calf went belly up. When the whale realized her calf was dead, she turned on the whalers and attempted, unsuccessfully, to destroy their ship…. Instead, she herself was harpooned and mortally wounded before she was able to strike the ship..
Upon observing all this, Mocha Dick decided to get in on the fray and also attacked the whaling ship directly after the missed hit by the mother. Mocha Dick successfully destroyed one of the smaller whaling boats, but was injured in the process by a harpoon. Here is the account of what happened after, according to Reynolds who collected the story from the first mate of the whaling ship that finally took down Mocha Dick… “After several harpoons had wounded him, the massive sperm whale dived deep under the water…
Overpowered by his wounds, and exhausted by his exertions and the enormous pressure of the water above him, the immense creature was compelled to turn once more upward, for a fresh supply of air, And upward he came, indeed; shooting twenty feet of his gigantic length above the waves, by the impulse of his ascent.
I gave the word to haul on; and seizing a boat-spade, as we came near him, drove it twice into his small; no doubt partially disabling him by the vigor and certainty of the blows. Wheeling furiously around, he answered this salutation, by making a desperate dash at the boat’s quarter. We were so near him, that to escape the shock of his onset, by any practicable maneuver, was out of the question.
But at the critical moment, when we expected to be crushed by the collision, his powers seemed to give way. The fatal lance had reached the seat of life. His strength failed him in mid career, and sinking quietly beneath our keel, grazing it as he wallowed along, he rose again a few rods from us, on the side opposite that where he went down.”
The oceans cover approximately ¾ of the world’s surface, and we land dwellers think we have it all and know it all, but there is a massive interrelated society of creatures living out of our sight whose habits, routines and structured societies live and thrive beneath the opaque waves that are unseen and thus unknown to us …These different types of whales, sharks, and dolphins are some of the most very interesting species of life on this planet…
I have said it before, and I will say it again: Truth is stranger than fiction!