Prior to 1964, killer whales were regarded as voracious, merciless predators that killed anything that lived in the sea. This bad reputation was based on scant eye-witness accounts. Most publications of the time focused on the whales predatory and aggressive behavior. The name 'Killer Whale' comes from 'Whale Killer' because the species had been observed attacking large whales in groups like a pack of wolves.
The first published account of Orcas comes from Pliny the Elder, the first century Roman scholar, who wrote in Volume IX of his natural history books that
A Killer Whale cannot be properly depicted or described except as an enormous mass of flesh armed with savage teeth.
In 1758 Linneaus named the species Orcinus Orca. Orcinus means 'of or belonging to the realms of the dead', and Orca means 'a kind of whale'. The Orca was believed to attack and kill even man, although there are no actual reports of wild orcas ever killing a human.
Spanish whalers of the 18th century witnessed Orcas tearing tongues and pieces of flesh from great whales several times their size and this coined the term 'Killer Whale'.
An 1862 report by the Danish zoologist Daniel Eschricht stated that he found 13 porpoises and 14 seals in the stomach of a 23 foot long adult male Orca from near Denmark.
In 1874 the whaler captain Charles Scammon wrote that
In whatever quarter of the world Killer Whales are found, they seem always intent upon seeking something to destroy or devour
Even as late as 1973, US Navy diving manuals described the Killer Whale as 'extremely ferocious', warning that a Killer Whale will 'attack human beings at every opportunity'.
Killer Whales have long been viewed with particular animosity by fishermen, who regarded the whales as threats to their lives as well as their livelihoods. In Norway it was feared that Killer Whales were decimating herring stocks, so the government encouraged hunting of this species by whalers, even subsidizing this hunt in the same years. Between 1938 and 1980, an average of 57 Killer Whales were taken each year in Norwegian waters.
British Columbia fishermen also complained abouth Killer Whales competing with their salmon fishery. In 1960, under pressure from sports fishing lodges in the Campbell River area on Vancouver Island, the Federal Fisheries Department developed a program to reduce Killer Whales by shooting them from a land-based machine gun. The gun was mounted but fortunately was never fired because the Killer Whales changed their foraging patterns to areas outside of the Campbell River when the culling program was about to begin.
|Home||Return to Top of Page||Email the Center for Whale Research|