The Time Killer Whales Teamed Up With Whale Killers
Disregarding a bunch of hairless monkeys with AK-47s, the title of most dangerous animal has to go to the killer whale, or orca. These quick and clever killers are perhaps the most naturally gifted hunters in the animal kingdom, able to flush out seals, flip the script on great whites sharks, and even to run the old bait-and-switch on their most cunning opponent, the seagull.
They're so talented, killer whales have even achieved the advanced artistic level of being total sellouts. In a rare instance of mutualistic "game recognize game," killer whales have been known to ally themselves with whalers, their unnatural enemies. This happened in the early 20th century in Eden, a coastal town in the south of Australia. There, for decades, the whaling Davidson family and the bay's local orca pod did nothing but give each other the side-eye as they competed in hunting down the big prize: massive, tasty, oil-and-blubber-filled baleen whales.
That was until the station started to hire indigenous Australians -- many of whom believe in a spiritual bond with killer whales. From that point on, the orcas entered into an unspoken arrangement with the humans: They would stab the baleen whales in the back by herding them to the shore where the whalers could then harpoon them in the front. This unusual contract was referred to (by the humans) as the Law of the Tongue: the whalers would get all the precious baleen bones and blubber while the lip-smacking orcas would get to feast on the meaty lips and tongues. It was an offer the Davidsons couldn't refuse.
The main snitch of the orca outfit was a male named Old Tom. When his pod managed to drive a baleen nearby, Old Tom would swim to the whaling station where he'd flop and splash and make a SeaWorld spectacle of himself to signal the Davidsons to get the harpoons ready. And this wasn't the only mercenary service the orcas provided. According to the whalers, these black and white turncoats would also escort their small whaling boats, driving off sharks to make sure their tiny human allies could put whale meat back on the menu.
For three whole generations, the whalers and their aquatic partners-in-crime teamed up to take down the baleens, racking up incredible kill counts of up to two dozen giant whales each season. But the traitorous arrangement ended when one side was, predictably, betrayed. One day in 1930, Old Tom himself drove a small whale to George Davidson's boat as per the arrangement. But a desperate Davidson refused to share, convinced by his greedy fishing partner to "bugger Old Tom." The man and killer whale wrestled over the carcass, with Davidson eventually winning by ripping out several of Old Tom's teeth.
This was a death sentence for the orca. The wounds grew infected, and Old Tom washed ashore dead soon after. The Law of the Tongue contract was forever broken, and the orcas never helped the whalers again. But to this day, the pact of bones for tongues is remembered in the Eden Killer Whale Museum, which holds the skeleton of Old Tom -- because a deal is still a deal.
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Top Image: Robert Pittman/US NOAA