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No. 121: Jan-Feb 1999

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Imprison Willy!

Killer whales get good press and complimentary movies, too. They are usually portrayed as gentle, intelligent, human-friendly marine mammals that dine only on fish. Lately, though, we have been reading that Alaskan killer whales have been snacking on those cute little sea otters.

Much more devastating to the killerwhale image is an article in Natural History describing the vicious attack of a pack of killer whales on a pod of much larger sperm whales 70 miles off the California coast. To ward off the attack, nine sperm whales had formed a rosette, heads together, with their powerful tails splayed outwards towards the enemy. The killer whales circled the sperm whales ominously. Every so often, one would dash in and tear off a huge chunk of blubber. Eventually, all nine sperm whales floated dead or dying in an ocean of blood.

The "gentle-giant" portrait of the killer whale is tarnished further in the Antarctic where they habitually dine on the lips and tongues of minke whales, then leave them to die.

(Pitman, Robert L., and Chivers, Susan J.; "Terror in Black and White," Natural History, 107:26, December 1998/January 1999.)

Comment. How will the media spin-doctor stories like these? Killer whales didn't get their name because they ate fish alone.

From Science Frontiers #121, JAN-FEB 1999. 1999-2000 William R. Corliss