The name “killer whale” is feared by those who have never encountered one. Lucky enough for the animal, more people are calling them “orca” these days and more people are learning about these “ocean panda’s”.
But where does the name “killer whale” come from?
It is believed to have originated from the whalers back when almost every country connected to the sea and / or ocean used to hunt whales for their meat and any other parts useable According to the stories the whalers witnessed the big whales being hunted by these black and white monsters that would chase the whales, kill and then eat them. This would explain where the name and image came from. These days with all the studies that have been done and all the information we can access, the name “killer whale” seems out of order. Of course one could say that these predators are fearless hunters that hunt and kill their prey but then this would also mean we have killer cats, killer birds and killer fish roaming our planet.
The name “orca” taken from “orcinus orca” has a more friendly sound to it and is being used worldwide by scientists, marine parks and lovers of these amazing creatures. Although people feared them a long time ago, today it seems that the orca is one of the more popular ocean creatures. These big black & white dolphins have the same charming look to them as the more common known bottlenose dolphin. Marine parks like SeaWorld claim to have changed the public’s view on these animals and maybe in some way they have. However, these parks are not the first to bring humans and orcas close together. Many think it was the first displayed orca “Wanda” that was captured in 1961 who opened the eyes of the world. Others claim that it was “Moby Doll”, who had been harpooned, survived and was put on display. Then we have “Namu” and “Shamu” who are seen as the start of a bond between humans and orcas by many people.
Looking at the total interest created for these animals it could be said that all this contributed to this, but a bond between orcas and humans was already established long before any of these animals were put on display. While the rest of the world was gaping at these huge, friendly and intelligent orcas on display in a park, on the other side of the world there already was a long history of humans and killer whales being “friends”.
On the east coast of Australia, in a town called Eden, people were already well aware of the kindness and intelligence of orcas. Twofold Bay had been the location for the Australian aboriginals to hunt for whales long before any European set foot on the shore. They had seen killer whales hunt baleen whales into the bay and even witnessed the whales beaching themselves to escape the black & white danger that chased them. For the aboriginals (Yuin) these killer whales were seen as friends or even family. They provided them with food and oil. They believed the orcas were tribe members who passed away and reincarnated as these powerful oceanic creatures.
In 1828 the first European whalers started using Twofold Bay as a whaling station but it wasn’t until years later that these whalers would start to work with the orcas to catch whales. Alexander Davidson together with his son John would build up an amazing and magical relationship with the “whale killers”. This bond would continue for several years until the bond was broken by the hand of humans.
While whalers before them hated the orcas and even tried to kill them the Davidsons found that these animals were only interested in the tongue (some stories say lips too) of the whales and would leave the rest of the whale. The Davidsons decided they would hunt the whale, leave it for the orcas to collect their delicacy and then come back the next day to collect the body of the whale. Over time the orcas seemed to understand the offer and in return would help the Davidsons to hunt the whales. When a whale would come close to Twofold Bay the pod would swim as close to the shoreline as possible and draw the attention of the whalers by slapping their tales on the surface of the water. The whalers then would get out in their boats and follow the orcas to the whales where they would both participate in killing the whale.
The orcas would be rewarded with the parts of the whale they loved most and the next day the whalers would pick up their share. Seeing them as friends instead of rivals the whalers named the whales. Many where named after whalers who had died. Big Ben, Little Jack, Walker and Youngster were a few of the names the animals were given.
The most famous of them was and still is “Old Tom”, a male orca whose skeleton is on display in the Eden Whale Museum. Driving whales into Twofold Bay and then alarming the whalers Tom was very much loved by Davidson. Three generations of Davidsons would keep the pact with the orcas intact but then disaster struck.
In 1900 one of the killer whales stranded and while they were on their way to rescue it the Davidsons witnessed a man called George Silk shot the whale. Then in the 1920’s a whaler named John Logan ignored the pact and tried to bring the whale, tongue and all, to shore. Old Tom grabbed the rope the whale was tied to and tried to stop the whalers from taking the trophy for their own. In the process Tom lost some of his teeth. A struggle between the humans and the orca was the end of a long time bond that had been one of the most amazing one’s ever created. The daughter of John Logan remembers her father saying
“My God, What have I done?”
It was the end of the relationship between the orcas and the whalers. Old Tom washed up on the beach in September 1930. The orca that once befriended the human whalers died of starvation.