Before a recent kayaking trip to the Canadian Gulf Islands near Victoria, BC, I asked a question that’s puzzled me for a long time: “Why don’t killer whales think of humans as just another snack?” These spectacular marine mammals sometimes feed on great white sharks or whales. They’re even aggressive enough to snake their way up on beaches in South America to snag sea lions in the surf as shown in this National Geographic video. If whales ever did develop a taste for human flesh imagine sunbathing on a California beach; your pleasant day is suddenly interrupted when an orca snatches your mate from the blanket next to you, and tows him or her back into the deep.
When I posed this question on Twitter a friend at work sent me a link to this video of a gentoo penguin being chased by a pod of orcas in the Antarctic. The penguin finally escapes from them by leaping into a rubber boat manned by the crew filming the drama. Then he waddles along the edge of the boat, as if to taunt the orcas from “no whale’s land.”
This just deepened the mystery for me. The only thing between the whales and this cheeky penguin was a rubber raft, but the orcas wouldn’t cross the line.
I’ve posed this question to marine biologists before but get mostly surprised stares for even suggesting it. When I asked a Canadian Parks planner on Mayne Island, where we were kayaking, “Why don’t orcas look at humans as just another item in their personal food chain?” she looked at me as if I had suggested that Her Majesty, The Queen, had run off with the Jonas Brothers. She had never heard that query before despite the numbers of friendly killer whales that inhabit the Canadian Gulf Islands. I have heard theories that the orcas respect or even fear humans. But maybe the best answer came from my wife’s cousin, Ann, who suggested that, “Maybe God just made us not taste very good to killer whales.”
To add to my concern was the news that four new orcas have been born in the Puget Sound area this year. What if their parents were looking to expand the food supply for the new hungry mouths and overfishing had cut back on the oceanic grocery shelves? The only thing between my wife and them was going to be a thin fiberglass kayak shell.
Despite the lack of answers, we set off on our kayaking expedition with our friends, the Dorns. As we paddled through the waters off of Mayne Island we skirted several islands of seal colonies. If orcas did have a taste for humans it would be like slathering yourself with chum and diving into shark infested waters. I imagined one rolling up next to our kayak, scanning me with one of it’s cow sized eyes, and then spraying me with water from it’s blowhole as if to say, “Sorry, dude, you just don’t taste very good.”
Much to our disappointment we didn’t spot any killer whales. I know it would have been a thrilling sight, despite the lack of an answer to my long standing question. I guess I should just be glad that orcas look at us more as friends, than food.