So I know I’ve already talked a lot about whales but in the wild unknown post I focused on baleen whales so I thought this post would give me chance to consider toothed whales, such as the killer whale pictured.
There are 73 species of toothed whale* and as you might guess, instead of baleen, they have teeth! In general toothed whales are smaller than baleen whales which is perhaps counter-intuitive when you consider the latter eats only teeny tiny food and the former is more prone to fish, baby whales and even seals. Another difference is the baleen whale has two blow holes where the toothed whale has one.
Killer whales are an apex predator and are found in most of the world’s seas. In order to find their food, toothed whales use echolocation. This allows them to dive deeper, where the light is poorer, to hunt. They are highly sociable animals and it is believed that different pods have adopted slightly different hunting techniques which are passed on to the new generation. Once they have found their prey, the killer whale’s strong teeth and powerful jaw grip on. They don’t actually use their teeth to chew, swallowing their kill whole.
Killer whales have also been known to drive their prey onto a beach to feed on it which is a risky strategy as the whale can become stranded and will be crushed under their own weight if they are out of the water too long. Perversely, they are not safe in the water either – if they cannot come up to the surface to breathe, they risk drowning.
There is also a theory, although how respected it is by scientists I don’t know, that whales engage in self stranding when they are ill. Sacrificing themselves so that the pod as a whole is not infected, slowed down or hindered in some other way. However, as whales have highly complex social structures, this can backfire; other whales may then strand themselves to try and help the first whale. Regardless of the truth in this, it gives us an interesting and contradictory metaphor. On the one hand we have the ill whale which gives us the idea of sacrificing oneself for the greater good and on the other hand we have the helper whales who are endangering themselves; who helps the helper? We have a responsibility to look after ourselves first, if we don’t then we cannot help others. The idea that if a man is down a hole, don’t get down there with him. This echoes the situation the baleen whale mother finds herself in in the wild unknown card.
As we saw in the wild unknown, the whale is a creature of abundance for people and in dreamtime stories, the beached whale was a gift to the people.
* Note, the term toothed whales includes all species of dolphins and porpoises