Clever Whale Uses Fish to Catch Seagulls
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Comments by Frank L. Hoffman
21 October 2005

While we donít like to see any living creature killing another to live, we understand that we live in a corrupt world. We wish that all humans and animals could live in the peaceable kingdom that existed in Eden when all ate plant foods. Or, as Isaiah describes (11:6-9), a place where they will neither hurt nor destroy in all of Godís holy mountain, because the earth will be full of the knowledge of God as the waters cover the sea.

But in our corrupt times, this story from the Associated Press does tell a lot about the intelligence of Orcas, and how they learn from one another.

The Associated Press Sep 1, 2005 8:44 PM ET

An enterprising young killer whale at Marineland has figured out how to use fish as bait to catch seagulls ó and shared his strategy with his fellow whales.

Michael Noonan, a professor of animal behavior at Canisius College in Buffalo, N.Y., made the discovery by accident while studying orca acoustics.

"One day I noticed one of the young whales appeared to have come up with a procedure for luring gulls down to the pool," the professor said. "I found it interesting so I noted it in my log."

First, the young whale spit regurgitated fish onto the surface of the water, then sank below the water and waited.

If a hungry gull landed on the water, the whale would surge up to the surface, sometimes catching a free meal of his own.

Noonan watched as the same whale set the same trap again and again.

Within a few months, the whale's younger half brother adopted the practice. Eventually the behavior spread and now five Marineland whales supplement their diet with fresh fowl, the scientist said.

"It looked liked one was watching while the other tried," Noonan said of the whale's initial behavior.

The capacity to come up with the gull-baiting strategy and then share the technique with others ó known as cultural learning in the scientific world ó was once believed to be one of those abilities that separated humans from other animals.

If animals possess a cultural learning ability, then it is proof that they shouldn't be exploited.  Such exploitation is no different than when humans kept other humans as slaves.

But biologists have since proven certain animals, including dolphins and chimps, do this.

"This is an example in which a new behavior spread through a population," Noonan said. "We had the opportunity to see a tradition form and spread in exactly the way that cultures do in humans."

He first shared his research earlier this month at the U.S. Animal Behavior Society Conference in Utah. Since then, he said, his phone hasn't stopped ringing. 

We believe that there is possibly another explanation for the whales behavior of even greater importance in understanding the intelligence of whales and other animals.  They obviously were fed enough food by Marineland, and didn't actually need to supplement their diet.  Perhaps, this bird catching scheme was conceived as a way of overcoming their boredom of living in captivity.  They may have invented a "game".

Whatever the answer, these whales many not have a choice about what they need to do to live, but we do. We donít need to kill to live. We have an abundance of plant foods to choose from, and we will live a healthier life by doing so.

Since we consider ourselves to have superior intelligence to the animals, doesnít it stand to reason that we should also be able to prove it by not resorting to the same killing frenzy as these whales and other carnivores do?

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