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Wave Wash
June 26, 2012 4:45 AM   Subscribe

"A pod of orcas, or killer whales, cooperate to wash a Weddell seal off an ice floe. This sequence, filmed for Frozen Planet, marks the first complete filming of killer whale "wave washing" behavior."

Frozen Planet, discussed previously.
posted by vidur (73 comments total) 16 users marked this as a favorite

 
Why do the orcas have to drown it? Can't they just bite it?

Also, that looked like a training mission. "I could bite him...but let's see how The Kid can get him off the ice floe." Not much prey there for 6 orcas anyway.
posted by DU at 4:51 AM on June 26, 2012


It's beautiful and scary how the whales work in sequence.

On the other hand it's hard not to root for the seal. Poor thing! I don't understand why, at the end, it didn't work harder to get up on that ice floe. Did it just give up hope? Also, are they able to drown the seal because they have bigger lungs and can hold their breaths longer, or do they take turns, or what?
posted by feets at 5:04 AM on June 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


Equal parts amazing and horrifying.
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 5:04 AM on June 26, 2012 [3 favorites]


I'm so naive. I thought this would be a sweet video of whales helping a stranded seal.
posted by double bubble at 5:05 AM on June 26, 2012 [27 favorites]


OK, so that shared learned behavior thing is incredibly cool.

But that last shot of the seal as it's being pulled under? Holy shit. That was depressing.
posted by This Guy at 5:05 AM on June 26, 2012 [10 favorites]


Damn it man, put the camera down and help him HELP HIM BEFORE IT'S TOO LATE

aw criminy.
posted by amy lecteur at 5:18 AM on June 26, 2012


The shot at 0:12 - "I'm so cute and helpless... Please don't eat me"
posted by cacofonie at 5:25 AM on June 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


It is not "depressing" to watch other animals eat the food they have evolved to eat.

It isn't depressing when a human kills a seal for food either, as they have been doing in the Arctic for oh, about 5000 years or so.

Whether anyone is watching or not, deaths happen, animals hunt and eat prey.

This was fascinating to watch, thank you.
posted by spitbull at 5:26 AM on June 26, 2012 [11 favorites]


The simultaneous beauty/harshness of the animal world is something that the Planet Earth series kinda resigned me too. You'd see the pretty polar bear strutting around, then you'd see it going after a group of walruses and be all "save yourself Mr. Walrus!!", which he would then do by stabbing the bear with its husk. Then the next thing you see is the wounded and starving polar bear staggering around on the verge of collapse.

Things die. It's how our world works.
posted by dry white toast at 5:29 AM on June 26, 2012 [16 favorites]


Damn it man, put the camera down and help him HELP HIM BEFORE IT'S TOO LATE

Don't cry too hard. Seals are jerks; just ask a penguin or octopus.

Jerk-face seals....
posted by GenjiandProust at 5:30 AM on June 26, 2012 [10 favorites]


Awesome. Nature, red in tooth and claw and awesome.
posted by brokkr at 5:31 AM on June 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


Of course that's "how our world works." Of course "animals eat the food they have evolved to eat." But seriously, I have some conflicted empathy going on here. Do you really not feel a little bad for that seal at the end as he's looking almost directly at the camera while he's being pulled under?

And yes, I know the whales need to eat too. Conflicted empathy.
posted by This Guy at 5:37 AM on June 26, 2012 [5 favorites]


Don't cry too hard. Seals are jerks; just ask a penguin or octopus.

Jerk-face seals....


Yes, yes, and if I lived in the Arctic and ate seals I'd be the first one in line to talk braising vs. roasting and topping a tasty seal steak with some foie gras seared in bacon fat. But in this context: big brown puppy dog eyes. Sniff.
posted by amy lecteur at 5:43 AM on June 26, 2012 [3 favorites]


killer whales beat up then drown baby grey whale

killer whales beat up then drown seagulls

killer whales beat up and drown minke whale

family of killer whales teach baby killer whale to beat up and drown a dolphin
posted by ennui.bz at 5:52 AM on June 26, 2012 [4 favorites]


humans feeling sad for the underdog is just as natural as orcas eating seals
posted by sineater at 5:55 AM on June 26, 2012 [16 favorites]


See him there, goofing around? He does not behave proactively. Many girls, they seem to like him; I find the situation frustrating. Lazy harp seal.
posted by The White Hat at 5:57 AM on June 26, 2012 [4 favorites]


But seriously, I have some conflicted empathy going on here.

That's the best thing about Mother Nature; She is, as Richard Dawkins described her, "pitilessly indifferent". Man's sense of compassion would seem to be an evolutionary quirk.
posted by three blind mice at 5:58 AM on June 26, 2012


The Orcas working together to knock the seal off the ice was fascinating. Then I closed the window because I'm just going to pretend that the seal somehow escaped.
posted by COD at 5:59 AM on June 26, 2012 [4 favorites]


When I was a kid in the late 70's I used to watch TV every night praying that there would be a show on about Killer whales or Great White sharks. This YouTube clip would have been the answer to all my prayers... and more. Fantastic.
posted by KokuRyu at 6:15 AM on June 26, 2012


family of killer whales teach baby killer whale to beat up and drown a dolphin

dolphin: DUDE SAME TEAM DUDE
orca: NOM NOM NOM NOM SHUT UP
posted by TheRedArmy at 6:16 AM on June 26, 2012 [8 favorites]


Man's sense of compassion would seem to be an evolutionary quirk.

I'm pretty sure that a) women also feel compassion and b) interspecies compassion and empathy is not limited to humans. For example, whales occasionally save seals.
posted by KokuRyu at 6:18 AM on June 26, 2012 [8 favorites]


Wow, that was beautiful. Nature is awesome. In the awe-inducing kind of way.
posted by gaspode at 6:28 AM on June 26, 2012


Orcas are seriously smart, scary, HUGE animals. It's like if hyperintelligent tigers were roaming the sea in packs, only they were eighteen times bigger. Orcas can weigh over six tons, have teeth three inches long, eat nothing but flesh, are smarter than wolves, and rarely show up alone.

Seriously, don't fuck with orcas.
posted by Scientist at 6:29 AM on June 26, 2012 [23 favorites]


If that was a movie, with our intrepid arctic explorer being stalked by menacing orcas, washed and then tipped off of icebergs, and finally, exhausted, pulled to his doom, we would expecit it to be narrated by Werner Herzog.
posted by Forktine at 6:33 AM on June 26, 2012 [3 favorites]


DU: Why do the orcas have to drown it? Can't they just bite it?

I've seen the whole doc, and it's great. From what I remember, they drown it rather than attack outright because it's the safest, surest way. In nature, there are no ERs, so a seemingly-trivial ripping bite from a panicked seal could become serious. Why risk it, when you're smart enough to use teamwork in a way which removes nearly all danger?

Also, to those feeling so bad for the seal: best not to watch the "Planet" series. It really opens your eyes to the food chain and the circle of life. You'd go from wanting to save the seal from the whales, to wanting to save the penguins from the seals, and later being shown a whale and its child slowly dying of starvation and wishing fervently for a seal with which to feed it, but that would doom that same seals family to likely starvation, which would however bolster the fish stocks in the area, but that might...

I love that series.
posted by gilrain at 6:34 AM on June 26, 2012 [14 favorites]


This Guy: "OK, so that shared learned behavior thing is incredibly cool.

But that last shot of the seal as it's being pulled under? Holy shit. That was depressing.
"

I couldn't even get there. I closed it after seeing him kind looking despondent and nervous after the whale didn't drag him in and went down (I assume to do another wave rush or something).

Who knows if that's the actual sequence. Regardless, that look on his face reminded me of my kitty when she's sad and I didn't like it and had to close it :(
posted by symbioid at 6:35 AM on June 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


interspecies compassion and empathy is not limited to humans.

But anthropomorphic imagination probably is.
posted by three blind mice at 6:35 AM on June 26, 2012 [4 favorites]


three blind mice: "interspecies compassion and empathy is not limited to humans.

But anthropomorphic imagination probably is.
"

eponysterical.
posted by symbioid at 6:36 AM on June 26, 2012 [3 favorites]


wait. nevermind. i'm stupid. mice CAN be blind. duh.
posted by symbioid at 6:37 AM on June 26, 2012


The more straightforward answer to the "yes, yes, nature and such, but how can you not be moved to compassion?" is simply "yes, yes, compassion and such, but how can you possibly choose which species to show compassion for?" I mean, if you choose simply by cuteness or anthropomorphic features (like large eyes), isn't that a bit cold-blooded itself?

That said, yes I do still feel compassion for the seal. However, it's tempered by compassion (and respect) for the whales, who have developed these extraordinary techniques not out of cruelty, but necessity. Evolution does not work on cruelty.

As humans, we're so very privileged to be able to indulge in compassion. That too, of course, likely evolved to allow us to better handle the necessity of living in larger groups, and it spills over to other species a bit. That's because we're not hungry.

There's also Human Planet, which will have you sometimes cringing at human "cruelty" to animals. Yet, it's hard to imagine acting differently when you have a family to feed, and your share of that kill is unlikely to do much more than quell the hunger until tomorrow.

(Have I mentioned how much I love the "Planet" series? It's still the most beautiful nature doc series ever, but it's also so much more honest.)
posted by gilrain at 6:57 AM on June 26, 2012 [2 favorites]


(Now, there is of course genuine cruelty, both among humans and, seemingly, among certain animals. For instance, beating a dog or horse to death, and not for food, is a twisted misapplication of rage. I'm not claiming that evil or cruelty don't exist. I view them as disorders.)
posted by gilrain at 7:03 AM on June 26, 2012


"fucked up synchronized swimming"
posted by MangyCarface at 7:03 AM on June 26, 2012 [2 favorites]


This will Weddell. (Except not for the seal.)
posted by kmz at 7:04 AM on June 26, 2012 [4 favorites]


You know I've always heard that a hunting pod of orcas compared to a pack of wolves, but you never see wolves working together to create gale-force winds to knock prey out of trees, so I'm going to start saying that a pack of wolves is sort of like a pod of orcas.
posted by shakespeherian at 7:30 AM on June 26, 2012 [2 favorites]


I can't watch I can't watch I can't watch!
posted by DarlingBri at 7:30 AM on June 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


You don't really need to talk down to us about the "circle of life". I'm sure we all get it. But we're also not robots, so it's A-OK to root for the outnumbered and outgunned seal. In fact, I'd probably look at you a little strangely if you didn't.
posted by Brocktoon at 7:33 AM on June 26, 2012 [7 favorites]


I hope I didn't come across as "talking down" to anyone. And watching that scene, I do feel bad for the seal, as I mentioned.
posted by gilrain at 7:42 AM on June 26, 2012


That wave-wash maneuver reminded me of the Alcubierre warp drive concept. Assuming this knowledge is available to all cetaceans, maybe that's how the dolphins were able to escape.
posted by unregistered_animagus at 8:03 AM on June 26, 2012 [3 favorites]


I think I would have screamed if a torrent of juices gushed from the orca's jaw.
posted by digsrus at 8:07 AM on June 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


One way Orcas maintain a healthy BMI is by playing with their food.
posted by KokuRyu at 8:09 AM on June 26, 2012 [3 favorites]


I meant to say I would have screamed like Lambert if a torrent of juices gushed from the orca's jaw.
posted by digsrus at 8:15 AM on June 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


That was incredible. And now I really hope Alec Baldwin is there to narrate when I, at last, find myself on the wrong ice floe.
posted by argonauta at 8:27 AM on June 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


Regardless, that look on his face reminded me of my kitty when she's sad and I didn't like it and had to close it :(

Ha, I had the same thought. I know nature is nature, but I couldn't help get a twinge of empathy when I saw the seal perk up in the beginning. He or she looked just like my cat Banana when she is sleepy and I surprise her.
posted by Falconetti at 8:32 AM on June 26, 2012


Also, stay off the beach...
posted by Huck500 at 8:36 AM on June 26, 2012 [2 favorites]


Holy shit, Huck500.
posted by gaspode at 8:57 AM on June 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


Man's sense of compassion would seem to be an evolutionary quirk.

I'm pretty sure that a) women also feel compassion


Are there really people that can't tell the difference between Man and 'a man' or 'men'?
posted by Brockles at 9:06 AM on June 26, 2012 [4 favorites]


It is not "depressing" to watch other animals eat the food they have evolved to eat.

I always love it when people tell others that what they are feeling is wrong or not true somehow.

It's as legit a response as anything else. Can we do without this kind of phrasing please?
posted by six-or-six-thirty at 9:09 AM on June 26, 2012 [9 favorites]


orcas eating seals is just as natural as humans feeling sad for the underdog... (while eating hamburgers and chicken nuggets)
posted by anthill at 9:11 AM on June 26, 2012 [2 favorites]


The amazing thing to me is that the orcas seem to be sharing mind-tools with one another. . .like "what if we directed a huge amount of water over that floe."

Seems like a pretty huge level of problem solving.

Also, if I am the seal, they are doing me a favor by drowning me first, rather than eating me alive.
posted by Danf at 9:14 AM on June 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


This thread makes me want to throw people who bandy about the term "anthropomorphic" into a pod of hungry of hungry orcas.
posted by Xoebe at 10:12 AM on June 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


hungry hungry orcas? /facepalm
posted by Xoebe at 10:13 AM on June 26, 2012


I literally can't get enough of this stuff. I wish National Geographic would send dozens of teams of photographers out into the remotest parts of our planet for years on end to capture never-before-seen images of incredible wonder FASTER DAMMIT!

re seals vs orcas: the seals can inflict pretty severe bites on an orca - despite their size the orcas take every precaution possible to stay away from the pointy end of the seal.
posted by Aquaman at 10:14 AM on June 26, 2012 [2 favorites]


hungry hungry orcas?

The most dangerous animal in all of Antarctica.
posted by sebastienbailard at 10:27 AM on June 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


Are there really people that can't tell the difference between Man and 'a man' or 'men'?

Neil Armstrong?
posted by morganw at 10:31 AM on June 26, 2012 [3 favorites]


I wonder how they decide which one gets to eat him? I suppose that might have been why the one whale held back at one point, to allow the one who was going to actually eat it to do so.

Also, the seal seemed kind of stupid at the end. If it had just moved a few more inches it would have been safe, so long as the whales hadn't been able to get him off with a wave again.
That's the best thing about Mother Nature; She is, as Richard Dawkins described her, "pitilessly indifferent". Man's sense of compassion would seem to be an evolutionary quirk.
I don't know if that's really true. Lots of 'social animals' seem to have compassion for other animals, provided they don't eat them.
Neil Armstrong?
Supposedly he said "a man" but the 'a' got drowned out by static.
posted by delmoi at 10:34 AM on June 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


One of the first people to observe this behaviour was Captain Scott, who gives a vivid description of it in his Antarctic diary (quoted by Apsley Cherry-Garrard in The Worst Journey in the World):
Some six or seven killer whales, old and young, were skirting the fast floe edge ahead of the ship; they seemed excited and dived rapidly, almost touching the floe. As we watched, they suddenly appeared astern, raising their snouts out of water. I had heard weird stories of these beasts, but had never associated serious danger with them. Close to the water's edge lay the wire stern rope of the ship, and our two Esquimaux dogs were tethered to this. I did not think of connecting the movement of the whales with this fact, and seeing them so close I shouted to Ponting, who was standing abreast of the ship. He seized his camera and ran towards the floe edge to get a close picture of the beasts, which had momentarily disappeared. The next moment the whole floe under him and the dogs heaved up and split into fragments. One could hear the booming noise as the whales rose under the ice and struck it with their backs. Whale after whale rose under the ice, setting it rocking fiercely; luckily Ponting kept his feet and was able to fly to security. By an extraordinary chance also, the splits had been made around and between the dogs, so that neither of them fell into the water. Then it was clear that the whales shared our astonishment, for one after another their huge hideous heads shot vertically into the air through the cracks which they had made. As they reared them to a height of six or eight feet it was possible to see their tawny head markings, their small glistening eyes, and their terrible array of teeth—by far the largest and most terrifying in the world. There cannot be a doubt that they looked up to see what had happened to Ponting and the dogs.

Of course, we have known well that killer whales continually skirt the edge of the floes and that they would undoubtedly snap up any one who was unfortunate enough to fall into the water; but the facts that they could display such deliberate cunning, that they were able to break ice of such thickness (at least 2½ feet), and that they could act in unison, were a revelation to us. It is clear that they are endowed with singular intelligence, and in future we shall treat that intelligence with every respect.
posted by verstegan at 10:44 AM on June 26, 2012 [19 favorites]


In his book "Liftoff", Michael Collins, who was listening from the command module at the time, says he just forgot.
posted by OldReliable at 10:44 AM on June 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


I find it interesting that these Toothy Aggressive SuperDolphins seem not to munch people, nor even beat us up for sport and cardio training.
posted by darth_tedious at 11:02 AM on June 26, 2012


The Orcas working together to knock the seal off the ice was fascinating. Then I closed the window because I'm just going to pretend that the seal somehow escaped.

He did, and is now living happily on an iceberg in upstate Canada.

Supposedly he said "a man" but the 'a' got drowned out by static.

I thought that he's since owned up to just fucking up the script.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 11:10 AM on June 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


What I hate is when you're walking across a bridge with your business partner and suddenly out of nowhere an orca leaps out of the water and over the bridge and snatches him in passing and takes him down under the water and you have to console yourself with that agreement where each of you inherits the the other's half of the company and the insurance you took out on him and no, officer, I don't know why he didn't have any toothmarks on him and died of blunt force trauma maybe the orca hit him really hard when it took him off the bridge yeah okay let me get my coat
posted by George_Spiggott at 11:30 AM on June 26, 2012 [5 favorites]


mrs. jonbro sayz

"BLURCH. Where is Attenborough?"
posted by jonbro at 11:53 AM on June 26, 2012 [5 favorites]


Also, stay off the beach...

What is WITH the narration on that one? Seals being eaten and you almost expect to hear a slide-whistle...
posted by jnnla at 1:07 PM on June 26, 2012 [2 favorites]


I really wish that Discovery would stop dubbing over Sir David Attenborough.
posted by Bonky Moon at 1:19 PM on June 26, 2012 [4 favorites]


Okay but if you mute it the orcas flipping the sea lion pups over their heads is sorta comical.
posted by shakespeherian at 1:20 PM on June 26, 2012


Seriously, don't fuck with orcas.
posted by Scientist at 9:29 AM on June 26 [17 favorites +] [!]


Well, if a scientist says so, then I definitely won't!
posted by aught at 1:49 PM on June 26, 2012


Jesus. What a mixture of cute & terror. Like My Little Orca: Predation is Magic
posted by Chrischris at 1:53 PM on June 26, 2012 [2 favorites]


My Little Orca: Predation is Magic

Who here knows Flash? We can do this.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 3:05 PM on June 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


The Weddell seal has a shorter lifespan than most other pinnipeds . On average, the Weddell seal lives for 20 years, compared to an average life expectancy of 40 years for most other seals. This is because the Weddell seals lives under the Antarctic sea ice in the winter adjacent to continental Antarctica by scraping the ice with its teeth. This has the effect of wearing down its teeth over time. Once a Weddell seal's teeth have worn down to a certain level, the seal is unable to eat and eventually starves to death.
Not much fun being a Weddell!
posted by asok at 3:57 PM on June 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


I've was in a kayak when a pod of orcas converged on me from 100 yards away much like the wave washing video. It's more than a bit disconcerting to see four 6-foot-high black knife blades in formation coming straight at you at 20 miles an hour. At the last moment they gracefully dipped below the kayak and reappeared on the other side barely missing contact and continuing on their way. I think I just happened to be in their path while they were pursuing some salmon and of no concern to them.
posted by JackFlash at 5:44 PM on June 26, 2012


"yes, yes, compassion and such, but how can you possibly choose which species to show compassion for?" I mean, if you choose simply by cuteness or anthropomorphic features (like large eyes), isn't that a bit cold-blooded itself?

Yes - large forward-facing eyes. Like a baby human face. Forward-facing eyes are for binocular vision. Binocular vision is for hunting.

Fluffy young apex predators are just the cutest things in the world.

Because we're apex predators.
(And we like fluffiness)

Little wee serial killers in training? Awwww look at his widdle wee face!!
posted by -harlequin- at 7:11 PM on June 26, 2012


I think I just happened to be in their path while they were pursuing some salmon and of no concern to them.

But now, next time it happens, you're going to shit your kayak.
posted by -harlequin- at 7:12 PM on June 26, 2012


I just popped in to say that I'm alright, thanks for everyone's concern.
posted by arcticseal at 9:04 PM on June 26, 2012 [9 favorites]


Amazing photos of transient Killer whales hunting a harbour seal off the east coast of Vancouver Island.

To our surprise the seal actually managed so slowly swim through the attack and got quite close to our boats. To close……..Before we knew it the seal was sitting right behind Gregs boat giving us both a look of shear terror as the whales continued to play their cruel game of cat and mouse. Multiple times the seal would be sitting behind us making eye contact when out of nowhere a whale would hammer him from below with both animals being launched clear out of the water. Neither of us could believe the show that we were seeing
posted by KokuRyu at 11:06 AM on June 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


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