August 18, 2021
After dropping Melissa off for an appointment, I decided to spend the wait time fishing. When I pulled into the mallard lake I have been frequenting, I saw the water level had dropped over two feet. The heat and evaporation had apparently taken its toll on the water. I had not originally planned on fishing so while I had my poles (kept in my car) I did not have bait. That was not a problem since I wanted to fly fish. I had broken down my pole and put away the fly the last time I fished and did not initially find the trout magnet I was hoping to use. Instead, I rigged up a wooly with a cadis fly drop and tossed into the shallow water. The shallow lake seemed to concentrate the fish and they were hitting my flies on every cast, including landing five. I was hoping to catch the bass that have been tempting me along the shore.
The Killer Whale or Orca (Orcinus orca) is a toothed whale and largest member of the oceanic dolphin family. It is easily recognized by its black-and-white patterned body. Orca whales are found in all the world’s oceans and range from Arctic and Antarctic regions to tropical seas. I have watched videos of Orca Whales using a catch technique called surfing for seals. The Southern Elephant seals (Mirounga leonina) and Sea Lions (Otariidae family, various) use the rocky shores of Punte Norte, Argentina, to birth and rear their young. The Orcas swim close to shore and wait for the perfect alignment of the tides, the seals, and shore, to strike. The Orca surfs a wave onto the shore, grabs a seal pup in its teeth, then rolls its body and uses another wave to pull it back to deeper water. In one study of this behavior, none of the observed whales were stranded permanently and 34.4% of their attempts ended with the catch of a seal.
As I fished for the bass at my lake, I was struck by another feeding technique used on the minnows along the shore. These small fish had schooled in the shallows, and the bass would swoop in and catch the scattering fish. Since they were along the shore, there were few escape routes and I assume the bass were effectively feeding. While the Bass were not beaching like the Orcas, the water was so shallow that the dorsal fins and backs of the Bass were completely out of the water as they made their runs. I do not recall ever seeing this behavior previously, but it must be common, at least in deeper water. While small mouth bass are not orcas, they seem to have learned how to herd and catch the minnows. I could not get the bass to bite on my wooly setup.
Thoughts: The Orcas’ innovative hunting strategies are not limited to seal surfing. Orcas around the world are estimated to catch and feed on over 140 species, such as sharks (including great whites), squids, sea otters, dolphins, bony fish, turtles, seabirds, and even baleen whales. The strategies used to catch this diverse prey are almost ritualistic in nature and are passed down from one generation to the next. Orca hunting may be considered an integral part of orca culture, with different populations continually recycling their group’s hunting “traditions.” Whether it is Orcas or Great Apes, the language, tools, and cooperation that used to define what it meant to be cognizant are being questioned as we research the behaviors of “dumb” animals. Perhaps we should rethink our dominance. Follow the science. Change is coming and it starts with you.