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‘Tall tales’ of local wildlife explored
The inside scoop about no fewer than 10 often-heard, much-repeated and long-debated tales about local wildlife was revealed at this year’s annual marine naturalist “Gear Down” event, presented and hosted by The Whale Museum Nov. 9.
The investigation and research that led to the answers below—mostly involving the Southern Resident killer whales—was compiled by Brittany Bowles, museum assistant education curator, conducted the investigation and compiled the research that led to answering the 10 “myths” presented below:
No. 1: Ruffles had a 6-foot tall dorsal fin—BUSTED:
His fin was 4-foot, 9-inches tall.
No. 2: Orcas are more likely to appear after it rains—PLAUSIBLE:
After a hard rain, loose sediment is washed from streams and rivers. This helps salmon use their sense of smell to make their way back up river.
No. 3: Bald eagles have locking talons and can’t let go of prey once they have it—BUSTED:
Bald eagles can let go if they wish. Other birds of prey, such as osprey, do have locking talons but bald eagles do not.
No. 4: Lolita has had several unsuccessful pregnancies while at Miami Seaquarium—BUSTED:
This “fact” is often cited from a newspaper article in the St. Petersburg Times. However, this article is nowhere to be found. In 1973, Lolita would have been only six years old and Hugo would have been about eight. Orca Network has no knowledge of this “fact” and a former trainer of Lolita’s has stated that to her knowledge, Lolita and Hugo never mated.
No. 5: Minke whales are named after a Norwegian whaler —CONFIRMED:
Three versions of this story; Meincke called out Minke whales while whaling, even though they weren’t supposed to be taking whales that small; Meincke was notorious for taking small whales even though it wasn’t permitted; Meincke mistook Minke whales for blue whales, which the other whalers found very funny.
No. 6: Orcas have been known to save humans from sharks—PLAUSIBLE: The documentary “Killers of Eden” gives accounts of orcas in Australia saving people from sharks.
No. 7: There was an albino southern resident—PLAUSIBLE:
In 1970, Chimo, a transient orca captured off of British Columbia was held for public display in Vancouver. She was part of the T2 pod and there was another white orca observed in 1960, possibly from the same pod. Chimo was later diagnosed with Chediak-Higashi syndrome, which can cause a lack of color pigmentation. There is also an albino orca in Russia and a gray transient orca was photographed by Jim Maya in 2010.
No. 8: Luna was kidnapped by Kiska. Kiska had reportedly just lost a calf the winter before Luna was born and may have stolen Luna as a way of grieving—PLAUSIBLE?
Luna was indeed seen traveling with Kiska which confused researchers. But at times Luna’s mother Splash was also with them, which made it all seem very friendly. We will never know what truly happened.
No. 9: Eagles have been known to carry items up to 60 pounds—BUSTED:
In general, bald eagles can lift up to half their body weight. Factors such as momentum also a play a part but on average, a bald eagle weighs between 8-12 pounds and can carry 3-4 pounds.
No. 10: Ocean Sun is Lolita’s mother—PLAUSIBLE:
There has been no proof of this; we only have a capture photo with them side by side.
— Freelance writer Libby Baldwin contributed to this article