Shark or Orca: Which Ought to You Worry Extra?

Swimmers usually fear about assaults by sure marine predators. However beware the chew of a extra frequent animal.

Within the wild, is a human extra more likely to survive an encounter with an orca or an incredible white shark?

— Kameryn F., Yardley, Pa.

By the numbers, white sharks are much more harmful to people than orcas are. Regardless of the identify “killer whale,” there’s just one well-documented occasion of a wild orca attacking somebody — Hans Kretschmer, who was bitten on the leg whereas browsing in California in 1972. Assaults by white sharks, though nonetheless uncommon, occur fairly a bit extra usually; there are a number of hundred on record.

So why are killer whale assaults so uncommon? Emma Luck, a marine-mammal researcher on the College of Alaska, instructed me {that a} large a part of it’s simply that orcas don’t encounter people as usually. “Killer whales are present in all oceans, however they are typically present in greater densities round chilly, high-latitude areas,” she wrote in a message. “These are areas the place the water will not be notably inviting for the typical beachgoer!”

She mentioned the 1972 orca assault was most likely a case of mistaken identification, as is the case with many shark assaults. “In an open water context, the place all events can view one another clearly, I’d wager that each the shark and the killer whale are going to depart you alone,” she mentioned.

In reality, you don’t should spend lengthy shopping police blotters to substantiate that not solely are killer whale assaults rarer than shark assaults, they’re additionally rarer than documented instances of swimmers being attacked and bitten by different people. Granted, that’s as a result of there are much more people than orcas round, however that doesn’t change the conclusion: Within the ocean, you’re extra more likely to be attacked and bitten by an individual than by a killer whale.

What’s on Your Thoughts?

If there is a science thriller maintaining you awake at night time, ship it to Good Query.

As a result of sharks and orcas each spend most of their time hidden underwater, we frequently consider them by way of their temporary interactions with us — will they assault us or not? If the one two choices are “Don’t assault the human” and “Assault the human,” it’s laborious to not deal with the second. In any case, it’s the second most definitely choice!

However sharks and orcas aren’t simply hanging out down there deciding whether or not to assault us. Just like the people you move on the road, they’re principally busy doing their very own factor.

And within the case of orcas, one of many issues they’re busy doing is worrying about humpback whales.

For causes which can be unclear to scientists, humpback whales nearly appear to have a vendetta towards killer whales, as a 2016 paper in the journal Marine Mammal Science famous. Everywhere in the world, orcas trying to chase down food are routinely interrupted by out-of-the-blue humpback whale assaults. Humpbacks will band collectively and journey nice distances to intervene in killer whale hunts, no matter what the prey species is.

The paper even paperwork instances of humpback whales seemingly lifting seals up out of the water and holding them out of attain of the orcas. The humpbacks stayed and guarded the prey for hours, till the orcas have been compelled to go away hungry.

Why do humpbacks do that? Is that this altruism? Sport concept? Cross-mammal solidarity? A side-effect of their intuition to guard calves? Or do they simply actually hate orcas, for causes recognized solely to them?

“It’s laborious to grasp why it occurs,” Ms. Luck mentioned. “Particularly as a result of it’s not restricted to only one inhabitants of humpbacks. It occurs all around the world.”

So if you happen to do encounter a killer whale within the ocean, don’t fear, it’s unlikely to assault you. And if you happen to’re nonetheless nervous … maybe think about befriending a humpback.

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