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ORCA - The Killer Whale

As if the perils of real life are not enough, modern day storytellers, writers, and film makers are always looking for ways to exaggerate reality, which tends to invoke a very real fear of unreal situations.

It was no different back in the days before film and special effects.  Seafarers and other adventurers shared a fondness for fanciful exaggeration.  This knack for "telling a good story" not only made an otherwise uneventful journey more memorable, but created a breed of heroes in the eyes of the less adventurous population.

Enter the Orca, or the Killer Whale.  Actually not a whale at all, but a large species of dolphin which feeds on larger, warm blooded prey such as seals.  Occasionally, Orca will also bite an Orca pup, which gives it a reputation as a whale killer as well.  But will a Killer Whale also kill a man?  Lets go back into history and find out...

It is the year 1911, McMurdo Sound, Antarctica. Robert Falcon Scott and his crew were preparing one last attempt to reach the South Pole.  His team of Huskies was tethered on a large chunk of floating ice - not an unusual means of transportation when all there is around you is water, and ice.  Suddenly, the Orcas appear, bumping the ice from below, just the way they have always done, in an attempt to dislodge what they probably thought were seals or penguins - their normal mainstay.  Herb Pointing, the expedition's photographer, was there to capture the scene.

This story was told and retold by Scott and his crew until finally the portion about the dogs being atop the ice was left out of the tale.  It seemed we now have a deliberate attack on man.  The U.S navy later got in on the story, posting a warning for anyone sailing the Antarctica, to beware of the "Killer Whales" - known for unprovoked attacks on humans "at every opportunity"!

In the 1950's two men in a fishing dinghy reported that their boat was repeatedly attacked by Killer Whales.  Upon inspection of their boat, however, the tooth marks left in the wooden hull were decidedly those of a shark.

In the decade to come, a writer you may recognize, Roger Caras, did some research on these apparent encounters.  None of them were found to be actual attacks by Orcas.  There is no record in history of an Orca attack on man or any vessel.

These magnificent creatures are in reality as gentle and loving as their close cousins, the dolphins.  So the next time you see that familiar black and white form and that toothy smile, call him by his real name, call him Orca, the world's largest dolphin.

Dive safe

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