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"Oh my God, it's orcas attacking sperm whales."
April 25, 2013 2:26 AM   Subscribe

On April 18, a half-dozen orcas battled a pod of sperm whales off the southern coast of Sri Lanka. The unusual encounter is one of fewer than a dozen such recorded conflicts — and the first observed. “We saw the water churning on the horizon,” said Heinrichs, a photographer and filmmaker who was in the area looking for blue whales. He and his colleagues steered their boat toward the patch of white water. As they got closer, they saw an enormous dorsal fin slicing through the water — a killer whale trademark — and then noticed the group of sperm whales, clustered together in a defensive stance. At that point, Heinrichs did what many of us would not do: He jumped in.
posted by DiesIrae (52 comments total) 31 users marked this as a favorite

 
Luckily for him, his brass balls would be hard for an animal to digest.
posted by jaduncan at 2:54 AM on April 25, 2013 [3 favorites]


In the year 2013, the oceans of Sri Lanka are engulfed in an endless internectine war... and only one man is willing to step up.
posted by hobo gitano de queretaro at 3:36 AM on April 25, 2013


Uhm, so the Sperm Whales and Orcas were having a West-Side-Story-off, and he decided to get into the water with them? 0_o

How was he not just squashed in the giant-sea-creature melee?

Astounding.
posted by Faintdreams at 3:43 AM on April 25, 2013


Aw man killer whales (when did they become "orcas"?) are cool. They're like giant, malicious pandas of the sea. I'm a big fan.
posted by ZaphodB at 3:51 AM on April 25, 2013 [7 favorites]


Orcas: assholes of the sea
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 4:21 AM on April 25, 2013 [6 favorites]


"The unusual encounter is one of fewer than a dozen such recorded conflicts — and the first observed."

This suggests that as many as ten encounters have been recorded without being observed. How?
posted by Paul Slade at 4:25 AM on April 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


>This suggests that as many as ten encounters have been recorded without being observed. How?

Perhaps from bite marks?
posted by foleypt at 4:56 AM on April 25, 2013


This is why I cringe every time I see an orca interacting with a human. It's just a matter of time...
posted by tommasz at 5:08 AM on April 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


Anyone who has seen those videos of Orcas sliding onto beaches to grab seals should realise that Shamu is really a cold blooded killer just biding his time to enact revenge on his human torturers.
posted by PenDevil at 5:11 AM on April 25, 2013 [2 favorites]


No, no, they can tell the difference between sperm whales and seamen.
posted by Joe in Australia at 5:11 AM on April 25, 2013 [5 favorites]


There are a couple of additional underwater video clips on Heinrich's own website. This guy has a pretty sweet job-- he's also the one behind the whale shark fashion shoot.
posted by jetlagaddict at 5:20 AM on April 25, 2013 [2 favorites]


No, no, they can tell the difference between sperm whales and seamen.

Eh, it all tastes the same to me.
posted by fight or flight at 5:23 AM on April 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


This suggests that as many as ten encounters have been recorded without being observed. How?
the first observed in the Indian Ocean.
posted by xqwzts at 5:31 AM on April 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


I don't understand how someone with brass balls that size doesn't sink straight to the bottom when they jump in the water.
posted by localroger at 5:43 AM on April 25, 2013 [2 favorites]


when did they become "orcas"?

Seems fairly fitting that Orcinus orca could be named orcas - "Killer whale" is and emotive and silly name.
posted by Mario Speedwagon at 5:52 AM on April 25, 2013 [2 favorites]


I was kind of hoping that he jumped in on the side of the sperm whales. Not as some kind of neutral observer of nature's murderers attacking the gentle, hippie giants of the seas. Tsk.
posted by Frowner at 6:09 AM on April 25, 2013 [4 favorites]


localroger, divers wear bouyancy compensator vests that can be inflated/deflated on demand, to give them positive bouyancy. Also, wetsuits have a lot of air in the neoprene, so typically a fully-dressed diver actually has to wear a substantial quantity of lead weights to be able to sink at all. I imagine Heinrich just counts his balls as part of his weight belt.
posted by Scientist at 6:26 AM on April 25, 2013 [3 favorites]


Sperm whales are hardly "gentle, hippie giants of the sea." We are talking about the world's largest predator, an animal with teeth the size of your hand that dives thousands of feet into the inky depths to do battle with giant squid, its primary food source. That they are outmaneuvered in this case does not mean they are some kind of benevolent, mild-mannered sea beastie.
posted by Scientist at 6:30 AM on April 25, 2013 [16 favorites]


Simmer down, Jonah.
posted by elizardbits at 6:31 AM on April 25, 2013 [7 favorites]


Orcinus orca suggest belonging to the kingdom of the dead or being beholden to Orcus (the Roman god of the dead, not the D&D baddie). Killer whale is not a far stretch from "whales who answer to the god of the dead."

Did the behavior of the sperm whales remind anyone else of the interactions between bison and wolves? It was weird to see enormous predators acting in the way that I usually think of prey acting.
posted by Hactar at 6:38 AM on April 25, 2013


Murder Dolphin vs. Battle Whale, only on Syfy!
posted by KingEdRa at 6:39 AM on April 25, 2013 [4 favorites]


Why all the anti-orca sentiment? They are hunting for food - and will eat what they kill. Would everyone feel less sad if they ate a great white shark? Welcome to nature people - it's not Disneyland.
posted by helmutdog at 6:43 AM on April 25, 2013 [6 favorites]


Why don't Orcas attack humans? Seems odd that they'd leave us alone.
posted by gwildar at 6:47 AM on April 25, 2013


Human interaction with orcas reminds me of The Killer whales of Eden, who would herd baleen whales into Twofold Bay, alert the human whalers to their presence, and wait to receive their payment- the lips and tongues of the butchered whales.
posted by zamboni at 6:54 AM on April 25, 2013 [6 favorites]


Sperm whales are hardly "gentle, hippie giants of the sea." We are talking about the world's largest predator, an animal with teeth the size of your hand that dives thousands of feet into the inky depths to do battle with giant squid, its primary food source. That they are outmaneuvered in this case does not mean they are some kind of benevolent, mild-mannered sea beastie.

Ah, you see, I was being silly. Although I do tend to like the big whales more than orcas, possibly because I am biased against deep sea squid.

Perhaps I should have included some kind of "I am being light-hearted here" indicator rather than leaving it to read "I literally think that sperm whales are vegans who carry little anti-nuclear signs in their flippers".
posted by Frowner at 7:19 AM on April 25, 2013 [5 favorites]


Why don't Orcas attack humans? Seems odd that they'd leave us alone.

When people disappear from the beaches of the Pac NW, it's often chalked up to sneaker waves.

Certainly there are no large predators that could attack from the water.

Peter Watts - Bulk Food(PDF)
Ramona smiles. "And despite what some people might think,"
she continues, "there's no such thing as a vegetarian orca."
posted by the man of twists and turns at 7:21 AM on April 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


That's an amazing story. Thanks zamboni!
posted by Jaymzifer at 7:23 AM on April 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


Why don't Orcas attack humans? Seems odd that they'd leave us alone.

FPP quote: "When I drifted away from the boat, the largest orca in the pod made a beeline for me but veered off at the last moment and dove deep."

That detail makes one wonder whether orcas recognize humans and don't think we're worth the trouble of attacking, what with metal & rubber scuba gear, and spear guns, and -- depending on how good orcas' memories are -- the possibility of later retaliation from other humans. The way orcas go after seals it's clear they wouldn't turn down a human-sized snack.

On preview of zamboni's link, it doesn't feel like such a stretch to think that orcas might even consider humans a fellow predator who's "on their side" in the pursuit of prey creatures of the sea rather than something to hunt.
posted by aught at 7:32 AM on April 25, 2013


"If killer whales lived on land, we’d be in trouble."
Um, Yeah, I'll buy that.
posted by TDavis at 7:43 AM on April 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


This is nuts. Sperm whales are predators, and, at an average of 50 feet in length, are twice the length of the average orca. Transient orcas tend to be more aggressive and eat more mammals than their fish-eating Resident and Offshore cousins, but to hunt something twice their size?? My mind is boggled. I wonder why this happened.
posted by nicodine at 7:53 AM on April 25, 2013


I wonder why this happened.

Sperm whales are dicks?
posted by KingEdRa at 7:56 AM on April 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


It's hyenas eating a lion... at sea, and at 10x zoom.

Mother Nature is not always LOLCATS and "Awwww" pics. (But damn it, it should be)
posted by DigDoug at 8:10 AM on April 25, 2013


I wonder if this sort of thing used to happen when there were more fish in the ocean.
posted by aniola at 8:27 AM on April 25, 2013 [2 favorites]


CNN: Seal attacks dolphin.
posted by marienbad at 8:27 AM on April 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


It's hyenas eating a lion

Eh? Seems more like dingos eating elephants too scared to realize they could stomp them.
posted by mrgrimm at 9:10 AM on April 25, 2013


When people disappear from the beaches of the Pac NW, it's often chalked up to sneaker waves.

Oh my god, I thought those were called "sneaker waves" because of that weird thing where all those single sneakers were washing up on beaches all over the region. Like, it's a wave that snatches people and sends back their sneakers. IDK IT SEEMED LOGICAL.

i not winnar
posted by elizardbits at 9:18 AM on April 25, 2013 [4 favorites]


To learn more about sperm whales, consult your local library. Or...
posted by Atom Eyes at 9:31 AM on April 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


Why all the anti-orca sentiment? They are hunting for food - and will eat what they kill. Would everyone feel less sad if they ate a great white shark? Welcome to nature people - it's not Disneyland.

From Wikipedia:
Often, to avoid injury, killer whales disable their prey before killing and eating it. This may involve throwing it in the air, slapping it with their tails, ramming it, or breaching and landing on it.
Orcas probably have good reasons for all that but from a human perspective throwing your prey all around before you eat it looks a whole hell of a lot like torture. There's a reason "Jerk of the sea"* used to redirect to the orca page on Wikipedia.

Don't make the same mistake I did by googling that phrase unless you want to see a sea cucumber getting masturbated.
posted by invitapriore at 9:35 AM on April 25, 2013 [2 favorites]


Spree Willy!
posted by chavenet at 10:45 AM on April 25, 2013


CNN: Seal attacks dolphin.

And then, penguins fight seals!
posted by Apocryphon at 11:11 AM on April 25, 2013


Don't make the same mistake I did by googling that phrase unless you want to see a sea cucumber getting masturbated.

The car-crash-viewer part of me had to Google but couldn't find the video. :/
posted by jaduncan at 11:17 AM on April 25, 2013


last chance to turn back
posted by invitapriore at 11:33 AM on April 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


gwildar: "Why don't Orcas attack humans? Seems odd that they'd leave us alone."

If my memory serves me right we're not good food for orcas and sharks etc because we have a low fat content. Sharks don't usually eat people... they merely have a quick bite to, uh, sample us (followed by what amounts to spitting us out in disgust). Of course the process of sampling can be a somewhat less than pleasurable experience for the, um, sample.
posted by Hairy Lobster at 11:39 AM on April 25, 2013


I'm sort of picturing an undersea Costco with a disappointed entrepreneurial octopus trying in vain to hand around a tray of tasty human samples and all the sharks just swimming away in disgust.

Pixar, this glorious tale can be yours for the bargain price of $50mil USD. Email in profile.
posted by elizardbits at 12:17 PM on April 25, 2013


I don't know how 'rare' this really is, but just last week I was reading about the exact same thing in the Sea of Cortez, a blog post (with photos) earlier this month by a woman working on board a National Geographic cruise ship.

Excerpt: "We got closer only to realize that there was a pod of 10-11 sperm whales in the water and that the killer whales must be trying to attack one of their young. Away from the group charged a large male sperm whale, traveling at such a rate he created his own bow wake while smacking his fluke on the surface and headed straight towards the pod of sperm whales and killer whales. The sperm whales then formed a rosette with all of their heads facing towards the middle and the young sperm whale protected in the middle [much as musk oxen do]. It was not long after we showed up, and the adult male sperm whale charged the killer whales, that the killer whales left the area."
posted by LeLiLo at 12:31 PM on April 25, 2013


"The unusual encounter is one of fewer than a dozen such recorded conflicts — and the first observed."

This suggests that as many as ten encounters have been recorded without being observed. How?


TFA continues that sentence with "...in the Indian ocean." A slightly less than judicious cut.
posted by Sparx at 1:48 PM on April 25, 2013


I wonder if this sort of thing used to happen when there were more fish in the ocean

Or before motorized ocean traffic when they could still hear themselves think.
posted by tapesonthefloor at 2:23 PM on April 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


Transient orcas tend to be more aggressive and eat more mammals than their fish-eating Resident and Offshore cousins, but to hunt something twice their size?? My mind is boggled. I wonder why this happened.

Orcas (like sperm whales, and all predators) go primarily after the old, weak, and young. There was a juvenile sperm whale in the group (possibly why they grouped together and stayed that way), and my gut feeling is that that is what attracted the orcas. Apparently, the orcas were successful.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 2:23 PM on April 25, 2013


last chance to turn back

Thank you. That was all that I could have hoped it would be.
posted by jaduncan at 2:59 PM on April 25, 2013


Just for fun, the orca sea-lion beach hunt from Trials of Life (1990). "Mike was confident that once the whale recognised that he wasn't a seal, it wouldn't go through with the full attack. It didn't take long for his theory to be tested..." (at 6.11)
posted by glasseyes at 6:45 PM on April 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


In other cetacean news: Humpback Whales Learn New Tricks By Watching Their Friends. Behaviors are spread through cultural transmission in animals other than humans and non-human primates.
posted by homunculus at 5:48 PM on April 27, 2013


Photographer Captures Stunning Killer Whale Attack on Dolphin

transients, residents, and "offshore."

Also, I watched Orca: The Killer Whale on Netflix last night. Not quite so-bad-its-good.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 1:33 PM on May 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


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