Dreaming of the Apex

A lot of marine environment in the news this week. First, I read that for all the coral which has died off since the first, powerful, 1998 global bleaching event, only about a hectare of coral has been created through re-planting. It was pretty stark to hear it this way. Even if every person races to the tropics and does their bit, it’s still likely to be a drop in the ocean. And re-building reef takes time.

From the base of the marine environment to the top. The other news stories I read were about orcas.

First story is the ‘interactions’ orcas keep having with yachts off Atlantic Europe. Another two sailing boats had their rudders chewed this week; this time off Sines, Portugal. Both boats were disabled and required towing to the mainland. Adding to the steady list of damaged boats since the beginning of the year by a seemingly rogue pod.

It’s been interesting to see the response as Facebook comments under posted threads. ‘Not the orcas fault,’ and ‘The boats shouldn’t be there in the first place,’ feature heavily – and surprised me to be honest. Not that people have to love yachties – but really? If you were out there with your critical safe space being compromised, you’d be cool with that? Just because it’s the orcas natural home? It seems the ocean is the great leveller.

Their behaviour is fascinating. Are these orcas deliberately damaging these vessels – or are they just playing as scientists have suggested? Hmm. Historical context might be useful here.

I read in Eden, Australia, during the whaling years, orcas were known to shepherd whales into a bay and then go alert the human whalers. The whalers would go out and kill the whales and allow the orcas to feed on their lips and tongues before the whalers hauled the whale carcasses up. This co-operation went on for at least three generations. It’s hard to see the orcas as just ‘playing’ now in comparison. Not without knowing what they’re doing, anyway.

I think if you sail these waters, it might be useful to bring a few bucket loads of fish with you for payment. A kind of marine mammal, personal protection racket. Apparently the orcas are used to being fed from fishing boats. And orcas do, after all, have the second heaviest brain after sperm whales. Sperm whales are gigantic in comparison. I just hope they don’t get the sperm whales involved in the racket.

The other news story are regarding the ‘missing’ great white sharks off South Africa. In one region near Cape Town, the sharks have reportedly disappeared. Again, because of shark carcasses washing up with tell-tale injuries, the finger is pointing at a pod of orcas. Orcas can become specialist hunters and this pod likes to dine on shark liver. Apparently it tastes like bacon fried in butter – to them. I don’t know how we know that. Wait, I found it. Speculation.

It is amazing though. Can you imagine being in any position to be able to attack a great white shark? Secondly, can you imagine being in a position to win? I mean in the animal’s element too – in the water. Fishing boats don’t count. Definitely not sailing boats.

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