SeaWorld likes to talk of them as being part of “our family” – as though the top predator of the ocean can somehow be adopted and treated like a baby by a bunch of businessmen who wouldn’t last five minutes if they were dropped into the ocean.
But the photo here shows the immense power of a killer whale. It’s one of a series on the Daily Mail, where you see this 8-ton orca leaping 15 feet out of the ocean in pursuit of a bottlenose dolphin in a chase that apparently went on for two hours.
Photographer Christopher Swann captured it all. He told the Mail:
“The killer whales tore round at full speed for two hours. We never knew where to look because they erupted out of the water in one place, disappeared in a thrashing of foam and reappeared in a totally new location.
“On one occasion the killer whale burst out of the water directly in front of us, and about six or seven meters ahead. He was about four meters in the air and heading right at us. I thought he was going to land on the boat but it turned mid-air and clattered into the sea beside us.
“The terror and fight for life of the dolphin was palpable. One felt one could feel the adrenalin in his veins and his pulsing heart as he raced for his life. [He went] back and forth but [was] always met by another whale blocking the way. Sometimes, three or four times, the whales would knock the dolphin out of the water – once with their tail.
“It is staggering how the whales treated it like a plaything.”
Maybe frightening, too. Swann said he couldn’t help feeling that for the last hour, the orcas were just toying with the dolphin unnecessarily as the dolphin became ever more exhausted. Like cats with a mouse. And then it was over.
But who are we to impose our own morality on the ocean’s top predator? By their very presence at the top of the food chain, they hold the ecosystem itself together. (We humans have found our way to the top of the food chain, too, but we don’t belong there, and all we end up doing is destroying the ecosystem.)
We kid ourselves if we think we can ultimately subdue an orca in captivity. In the new movie Blackfish, when we see Tilikum drag his “trainer”, Dawn Brancheau, to her death (we don’t see all of it), she, like that dolphin, becomes nothing more than a plaything.
Nature reasserts itself.
In the Biblical Book of Job, when Job attempts to understand why such bad fortune has befallen him, the Almighty tosses off his moral arguments with a simple:
“Where were you when I laid the foundations of the Earth? Tell me, if you have any understanding.”
The power of nature, we are told, is way beyond the understanding of mortal humans.
“… Can you draw out Leviathan (the whale) with a hook? Will you take him for a servant for ever? … Can you fill his skin with barbed irons or his head with fish spears? … Upon Earth there is not his like, who is made without fear.”
How deeply ironic, then, that today we have learned to put a hook in him, to take him as a servant, and to take his kind down with barbed irons and spears. What was once such an utterly unthinkable notion is today exactly how we treat Leviathan.
Except that it cannot last. Try as we will to dominate nature by rounding up dolphins in The Cove, making orcas do tricks for food in Blackfish, or factory farming whales in the Southern Ocean, we will surely fail.
Nature reasserts itself. And against the power of nature, ultimately, we don’t stand a chance.