Christopher has been on an orca kick lately—and I hope whatever story he writes will include at least a parenthetical rumination on how sudden obsessions develop—so I hope he enjoys this gif of an orca flipping a dolphin into the air during a hunt.
According to a Canadian whale biologist, orcas tend to head-butt prey—sometimes a whole pod rams a sperm whale, stuns it, and then nips off pieces of flesh. (That head-butting of large objects explains how orcas have been able to sink wooden ships.) But head-butting a dolphin isn't analogous to a cat playing with its food. It's a practical necessity:
“Imagine being a whale chasing a dolphin at 20 knots. It really can’t open its mouth because the drag on its lower jaw would be pretty horrific,” said John Ford, a whale biologist at Fisheries and Oceans Canada. “So they tend to just ram them, and in doing so, the prey often do go flying in the air.”
But don't worry, swimmers. The chances of an orca flipping you in the air are next to none. As far as we know, no humans have ever been fatally attacked by orcas—in the wild, anyway. (In captivity is a different story.)
Many years ago, a friend and I were staying in a cabin on the northern part of Puget Sound and took some kayaks out late at night. Yes, that was youthful foolishness, but it was calm. (Not like the stormy day involved in another story about kayak foolishness that I wrote about for the 2014 regrets issue.)
We paddled out then sat quietly, smelling the salt and listening to the water. Then we heard a sound slowly approaching in the dark: watery puffs of air. We couldn't see what it was, but it sounded like orcas. For whatever reason, we didn't panic—we didn't need to, but we didn't know about the no-fatal-attacks thing at the time—and sat for a few minutes as the puffs slipped by and the night got quiet again.
It could have been a sleeping pod: Apparently, orcas sleep by shutting off one hemisphere of their brains at a time and moving together slowly.