A Whale of Altruism

For the longest time I have always considered Killer Whales, or Orcas, to be the apex predator of our seas and oceans. No other aquatic mammals possess a higher level of sophistication in social and hunting behavior as these fierce, cunning, team-working killers. They are the ocean’s top predator because there are no other seafaring animals that prey on them. No other creature in the sea has the group intelligence, the complex vocal communication, or eusociality to compete with the mighty Orcas and their pods. All aquatic animals fear Killer Whales, even the Great White Sharks run from the first hints of approaching Killer Whales. They are indeed the Dexter’s or Jack the Rippers of the water-world.

Orca v sealsI’m sure many of you have watched Nature documentaries on these animals and how they are able to hunt seals right off the beach swimming up onto the sand, out of the water to chomp on surprised, unsuspecting pups then dragged back into the sea with their floundering meal in their teeth.

As a remarkably fast pod they search out dolphins, chase them long distances and exhaust the weaker dolphins. This separates the stragglers from the main pod. Once this is achieved the lone selected dolphin is pounded by the veteran Orcas’ strong tails and kept from surfacing to breath. It soon drowns and is eaten, shared by the Orca pod. Depending on the geographical habitat Killer Whales feed on over 30 species of fish, cephlopods like squid or octopus, mammals (even deer swimming island to island), sea birds and sea turtles. Personally, I have the highest respect and fear of Orcas simply for their astute intelligence and ability to hunt as a pack—strength in numbers with highly evolved brains and 56 razor sharp teeth per Killer Whale. Seriously, what isn’t to fear about this animal!? When I learned that even Great White sharks will not stay around if any Killer Whale pod is in the vicinity, I concluded that this creature was today’s T-Rex of the seas; the unequivocal Champ/King of the food chain with no contenders.

Then I learned about one of the most fantastic natural events in animal behavior. They are knights in shining armor, the Sir Lancelots of the Brutal Seas. I was stunned! I could not believe my eyes and ears and what I was reading and watching on PBS.

The One Ocean Mammal that Will Stand-up to Killer Whales

They are not the largest mammals on Earth, but despite the hunted species in distress fearing for its life Humpbacks are seemingly compassionate heroes and fearless defenders when it comes to lethal, attacking Killer Whales.

Increasingly more and more oceanic documentations and studies from around the world seem to show a pattern of extraordinary altruistic behavior among Humpback whales when Killer Whales attack prey. From the August 2016 LiveScience.com article:

The study found that large and powerful humpback whales, the only whales known to attack orcas, will band together and sometimes travel great distances to interrupt and terminate a killer whale attack, regardless of what type of animal the orca is attacking.

Yes, as if the weak and defenseless had little to no hope of surviving the hungry pod’s trap and guaranteed feast starting with little ones, the proverbial cavalry swoops in and swims to the rescue. Is it possible that highly evolved aquatic mammals like whales, dolphins, and octopuses that we’ve only just begun studying intimately the last few decades have an intricate social-system connected with levels of empathy and compassion? We know they protect offspring, of course, as most mammals have done for many centuries and millenia. However, just how expansive is interspecies relationships, friendships, or compassion for animals not their own?

Humback v Orca

Humpback hits and flips a Killer whale

One account in the study described a killer whale attacking a gray whale mother and calf, when “out of nowhere, a humpback whale came trumpeting in.” Four more humpbacks shortly followed, which the observer found odd because no humpbacks had been sighted in the area before then. Their timely arrival allowed both calf and mother to flee to safety, the researchers said.
Saved by the Whale! Humpbacks Play Hero When Orcas Attack, https://www.livescience.com/55639-humpbacks-protect-when-killer-whales-attack.html, LiveScience.com accessed Jan. 8, 2020

Are these events and reports just random, freak occurrences that do not portray such a learned, high-level of caring, compassion, and empathy of which we assume is only a behavioral manifestation by “God-created” or socially evolved humans?

Humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae) are known to interfere with attacking killer whales (Orcinus orca). To investigate why, we reviewed accounts of 115 interactions between them. Humpbacks initiated the majority of interactions (57% vs. 43%; n = 72), although the killer whales were almost exclusively mammal‐eating forms (MEKWs, 95%) vs. fish‐eaters (5%; n = 108). When MEKWs approached humpbacks (n = 27), they attacked 85% of the time and targeted only calves. When humpbacks approached killer whales (n = 41), 93% were MEKWs, and ≥87% of them were attacking or feeding on prey at the time. When humpbacks interacted with attacking MEKWs, 11% of the prey were humpbacks and 89% comprised 10 other species, including three cetaceans, six pinnipeds, and one teleost fish. Approaching humpbacks often harassed attacking MEKWs (≥55% of 56 interactions), regardless of the prey species, which we argue was mobbing behavior. Humpback mobbing sometimes allowed MEKW prey, including nonhumpbacks, to escape. We suggest that humpbacks initially responded to vocalizations of attacking MEKWs without knowing the prey species targeted. Although reciprocity or kin selection might explain communal defense of conspecific calves, there was no apparent benefit to humpbacks continuing to interfere when other species were being attacked. Interspecific altruism, even if unintentional, could not be ruled out.
— Pitman, R.L., Deecke, V.B., Gabriele, C.M., Srinivasan, M., Black, N., Denkinger, J., Durban, J.W., Mathews, E.A., Matkin, D.R., Neilson, J.L., Schulman‐Janiger, A., Shearwater, D., Stap, P. and Ternullo, R. (2017), Humpback whales interfering when mammal‐eating killer whales attack other species: Mobbing behavior and interspecific altruism?. Mar Mam Sci, 33: 7-58. doi: 10.1111/mms.12343

It is quite rare for scientists to film a united Orca attack, but it is even more rare for them to catch and film Humpback whales intervening to stop the attack. More and more footage is showing that if Humpback whales are able to arrive soon enough during the Killer Whale hunt, the Humpback whale(s) will put themselves between the Orcas and the prey.  They will defend and deter the Killers however they are able until the Orcas swim away defeated. It is truly astonishing.

As I watched the PBS Nature show The Whale Detective, I was pleasantly blown away by this heroic behavior from adult Humpbacks. I had never known ANY modern oceanic species that was capable of stopping, let alone scare away Killer Whales from an almost successful, team/pod hunting attack. Seriously, how often do Orca pod attacks end in failure? They are phenomenal pack-hunters with cunning skills in various conditions and places when they set out together to kill an animal, in the water or on the beach! Finally, they have an opponent that will not back down to them and do what they can to protect other vulnerable sea mammals.

Is it not a wonderful moment when knowing full well we humans are by no means at the top of the food-chain—when NOT in our own controlled environments, especially—and  you witness or learn that what once was thought to be an unstoppable, unmatched predator (e.g. grizzly bears, Burmese pythons), a given… in and on this planet’s carnivorous flesh-ripping arena, the hierarchy is turned upside down. Suddenly the top dog, the apex predator actually DOES have a serious threat or contender, a weakness? I do! I love when big slices of humble pie are served up. I thoroughly enjoy watching hyper-arrogant bullies, in dismay, meet their match and fall embarrassingly to the next champ, the next better killer, or more advanced, more evolved highly skilled species, and “the fall,” perhaps extinction, suddenly becomes a serious F*CKING reality. 😆 Nature seems to have a way of rebalancing things, of realigning or reorganizing equality, huh?

Ahh, Natural Selection and advanced, progressive intelligence:  a wonderful bitchin’ combination ain’t it? Three cheers for the Humpback whales!


Live Well — Love Much — Laugh Often — Learn Always — Know the Food Chain

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Answer the question-mark as you feel.  I have.  The answer, the feelings ran on, like the grammatical run-off(?) sentence bursting through, out, and everywhere.  As I express my words here I feel my heart rushing downstream.  I can’t decide if I want a life-preserver thrown.  Do I need one?  Do I want one?  Emphatically with a smile…no.  Come what may.

I am Overcome with much emotion today and it is fine.  When my primal human side has been dormant too long, I have found that simple triggers, like music…a certain tune and lyrics, open the flood-gates.  And I become SO alive and so grateful to be FEELING alive!  Scary or relieving…it’s a willing surrender to be wholly human.

Trigger #1

My birdcage door is and always will be open.  As much as I sometimes loath it being vacant, I remind myself of the utter euphoria when it is filled…willingly.  My soul expands, deepens, despite the urge to retract… preparing me for the next temporary? smaller vacancy.  Preserver not required.

Trigger #2

When Taylor first arrived at my former school and in my classroom, he was very bitter, very angry, and a very anti-social 8th grader, sometimes violently hitting his desk or the room’s walls.  His grades reflected a future in our penitentiary system.  By the end of that school year, with much needed extra-time, love, and belief in him, he became my best student; always first to his desk and ready to dive in to the lesson.  One day late in the year while my state education examiner-field supervisor was present evaluating my/our performance — debating among student groups over the Dred Scott Supreme Court case — Taylor blew her mind with how much he knew and how respectfully well he debated the positions.  To say I was overly proud of him is a gross understatement.

The last day of classes he told me he didn’t want to go to high school Social Studies.  I asked why.  “Because I love your class Mr. _______.  If I don’t like 9th grade Social Studies, I’m going to fail it so I can come back to your class!”  To this day, that was one of the best compliments I could ever want.

Then the other day while visiting my former principal — the campus of Special Ed/Needs and wards-of-the-state — Taylor jogged quickly over to hug me and he said “I really miss you Mr. _______!  You were my favorite teacher.  You taught me that despite my crappy life-situation, I am valuable.  I can manage anything with the right attitude!”  My heart wanted to burst and tears welled up.  I had to clear my throat before I could utter a little Thank You.  He and I spent a much too brief 5-minute catch-up together before he had to dart to class.

Mmm, feeling much more human again.  Preserver still not needed.

Trigger #3

Random acts of kindness, compassion, and love can be unbelievable ripple-effecters!  Hah!  Is that a word?  Doesn’t matter…it’s TRUE!

I had such a random blog-visitor yesterday and I stumbled across one of her “happy” songs.  To follow her Pay it Forward goodness, I will also share it here…

Thank you so much Lindsey for making my day more INCREDIBLE!
(paragraph break)

Since music speaks to me and literally grabs me passionately, I will continue the/her random acts of energizing goodness that has Overcome me today.  “When there’s a burning in your heart… Let it grow, let it grow…Build it bigger than the Sun.”  Pass some on.  Oh, and the life-preserver?  I’ll leave it behind and jump in myself.  As it turns out, there are already plenty in the water.

(This… Fire… Grows… High…)
(This… Fire… Grows… High…)
(This… Fire… Grows… High…)
(This… Fire… Grows… High…)

When there’s a burning in your heart
An endless fury in your heart
Build it bigger than the sun
Let it grow
Let it grow
And there’s a burning in your heart
Don’t be alarmed

(This… Fire… Grows… High…)

When there’s a doubt in your mind
‘Cause you think it all the time
Framin’ rights into wrongs
Move along
Move along
When there’s a doubt within your mind

When there’s a burning in your heart
And you think it’ll burst apart
Oh, there’s nothing to fear
Save the tears
Save the tears

When there’s a burning in your heart

And if you feel just like a tourist in the city you were born
Then, it’s time to go
And you find your destination with so many different places to call home
‘Cause when you find yourself a villain,
In the story you have written
It’s plain to see
That sometimes the best intentions
Are in need of redemption
Would you agree
If so, please show me

(This… Fire… Grows… High…)
(This… Fire… Grows… High…)

When there’s a burning in your heart,
When there’s a burning in your heart,
(This… Fire… Grows… High…)
When there’s a burning in your heart,
(This… Fire… Grows… High…)
(This… Fire… Grows… High…)
When there’s a burning in your heart,
(This… Fire… Grows… High…)
(This… Fire… Grows… High…)
When there’s a burning in your heart.

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You Are A Tourist
by Death Cab for Cutie

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Time To Take A Hard Look America

#1 - Denmark

#1 – Denmark

In a recent poll by the Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD) the happiest citizens in the world — out of 140 countries polled — are in Europe, northern Europe to be exact.  To read details about the questions used in the poll, click this link:  ABC News: Business & Economy.  Where did the self-proclaimed mightiest “land of opportunity” nation rank?  The United States did not even crack the Top 10.

The OECD found that the health of the nation’s economy was a major influence on the pollees, such as the current unemployment rate.  A 2005 article written by Dr. Tony Delamothe and published in the British Medical Journal reported that “individuals typically get richer during their lifetimes, but not happier.  It is family, social and community networks that bring joy to one’s life, according to Delamothe.  Delamothe’s research included Ghana, Mexico, Sweden, the United Kingdom, and the United States.  Another very significant influential factor was the citizen’s hourly balance between work and leisure.  The poll showed that “While Scandinavian countries boast a high GDP per capita, the average workweek in that part of the world is no more than 37 hours.  In China, which got a low score of just 14.8, the workweek is 47 hours and the GDP per capita is just $3,600.

Before Americans typically begin screaming and quickly pointing the finger, it is time that the deconstructing segregating mentalities — that are often based in medieval conservative-elitist ideologies — be dropped all together and a more GLOBAL humanitarian tolerant mentality be embraced.  How critical is this self-examination?  Easy….because on a global comparative scale the United States falls short and well behind the rest of the world in too many categories!  Whether America likes it or not her once arrogant image of herself as the “beacon to the world” by Lady Liberty in New York harbor, needs to be much more inclusive than globally exclusive.  Gone is the age when Americans are immune to the world’s brilliance and problems across two oceans.

Here is an idea:  instead of constantly considering ourselves proud Americans, let’s consider ourselves human beings from planet earth that has OTHER 6.8 billion humans existing on it as well….whom ironically are doing better and are much healthier and happier.  Happiness, brilliance, or righteousness is not exclusive to just one continent, let alone one nation or ideology.  Tunnel-vision is a very risky game when entering narrow railroad tunnels and the status of trains (other nations) are unknown.  By the way, who are the other happiest nations that have social-political methods for America to learn from, or model?

#1 – Denmark,  #2 – Finland,  #3 – Netherlands,  #4 – Sweden,  #5 – Ireland,  #6 – Canada,  #7 – Switzerland,  #8 – New Zealand,  #9 – Norway,  #10 – Belgium

Where did the United States rank?  According to LifeScience.com, the U.S. comes in at #12.  Other studies (Gallup Survey) have America coming in lower.  The majority of the unhappiest nations are found on the African continent.  One particular area of interest; notice that of the Top 10 nations listed, it begs at least one question, “What type of healthcare systems do they have?”  Hmmmmm.

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