Thursday, March 3, 2011

Killer whales can plan ahead

Researchers trying to figure out how killer whales communicate during cooperative hunts without scaring away their prey made an interesting discovery: they don't. Orcas that hunt mammals appear to cut off their usual communication entirely during their hunts, and they can't always see each other. So how do they make sure everything goes smoothly? It appears that they rehearse or plan in advance, though scientists haven't quite nailed down all the details. The noises orcas typically use to communicate are audible to their prey, so these hunters appear to have figured out that they need to be quiet to keep their targets from catching on. Yet another blow to human exceptionalism.

Other big news on orcas includes the fact that Sea World is resuming parts of its killer whale training program that involve having trainers in the water with orcas. It's kind of depressing that just as we're learning more about how intelligent these cetaceans are we're persisting in keeping them in captivity, which shortens their lifespan, stresses them out, and tears them away from their family groups. Not to mention prevents them from communicating and limits them to relatively tiny tanks. Marine theme parks may mean well, but it may be time to admit that the best way to convince people to protect these animals (who have never killed humans in the wild, by the way, although they do like to join in our snowball fights) is through less invasive means like whale watching tours and nature documentaries.

No comments: