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A Group of Orca Outcasts Is Now Dominating an Entire Sea

“Killer whales that feast on seals and hunt in small packs are thriving while their widely beloved siblings are dying out.”

Fascinating article in the Atlantic about killer whale populations in Canada. Resident vs. transient whales, a short (and heart-breaking) history of capturing killer whales for aquarium exhibits (“children asked why the whales were crying”), and the work of marine biologists (and local populations) getting to know resident orcas as individuals.


Notes


Fun facts about the European hornet

Had several visits from European hornets this summer. Since knowing stuff about scary things tend to make them less so, here are a few fun facts about Vespa crabro:

  • Largest wasp in Europe (length varies from 18mm to 35mm). Not as aggressive as our regular wasps (Norwegian wasps, German wasps, and yellowjackets), but the sting is said to be more painful. Cruising speed of 20–24 km/h (≈ 12–15 mph), faster when it’s hunting.
  • Was observed in Norway in 2007 for the first time since 1911, huzzah!
  • Europeans are the biggest threat to the European hornets, destroying their nests because they’re scary and chopping down their habitats for fun and profit. The hornets have enjoyed legal protection in Germany since 1987, where swatting (and killing) a European hornet can net you a fine of up to €50,000.
  • Laughs at spiders and their webs, even steals their prey (phenomenon known as kleptoparasitism).
  • The common hedgehog is immune to the poison and will gladly raid a hornet nest, though they’re usually built in places hedgehogs can’t reach.
  • Insect-eating birds leave the European hornets alone, except the European bee-eaters (Merops apiaster) who remove stingers and squeeze out the venom before they eat. Clever birds!
  • We don’t have bee-eaters in Norway.

Quotes

Mortal turkey combat

While residents have to work together to hunt salmon, salmon don’t fight back. For the transients, Hafey said, every meal is a potential death match: “It’s as if every time you opened the fridge you had to have mortal combat with a turkey to get a sandwich.”

[...] residents and transients have lived separate lives for at least a quarter-million years. They generally do their best to avoid each other, and they don’t even speak the same language—the patterns and sounds they use to communicate are completely different. Over time, each type has established cultural traditions that are passed from generation to generation. While transients’ small groups enable them to hunt more quietly and effectively, residents’ large extended families allow them to work together to locate and forage for fish. Biology isn’t destiny, but for orcas, food sources might be.


Superorganism mind

I think the assumption of a high degree of common interest is important to this idea of a superorganism, the expectation that it acts as a unitary, cognitive entity. In other societies where the integration is not as tight, it might be less fruitful to treat them as a single mind.

[...]

Obviously, there are a lot of differences between insect societies and human societies. If we find commonalities in how they behave, maybe that’s revealing.