It has been reported in the news today that a number of "False" Killer whales have beached themselves in western Australia.
So here's my take on it; it's a protest.
Now hang on a moment, don't write this off without thinking about it!
Whales and dolphins have been shown to be very sociable animals, and social interaction indcates intelligence. It's an intelligence that we do not understand as humans and we have no way to communicate with them. Sure we can teach them a few tricks but that's not meaningful conversation. So given that these creatures are intelligent, what does an intelligent animal do when faced with a problem? It indicates to others what is going on.
What is the problem? well one big problem is going to be lack of food, we humans are over-fishing all areas of the sea around the world. We are also polluting the seas and destroying natural habitats such as coral reefs. This will not only have an effect on the creatures that eat the same fish that we do, but will also upset the whole ecosystem.
The whales and other large sea mammals are living in a sea that is very different from how it has been for thousands of years. They were in balance with their world, but that has changed. We have changed it.
So given that there is a problem, and that those facing it are intelligent, what does an intelligent creature do?
When humans collectively dislike something that is going on, we protest. That protest could take many shapes or forms, as we understand many types. One of the nastiest kind of protests is in a prison situation, where people go on hunger strike. They feel that this is the only way to get some attention. without the ability to talk something over, a display of life and death is often the only way to get noticed. How do the iraqi people get attention to their cause? They kill a few westerners. People also have a habbit of offering their own deaths so that it may carry a message, martyrdom is common throughout our history.
Death it seems is a good indicator that something is very wrong with the status quo.
Looking at the whales I have to make one assumption; they are intelligent, then the rest falls into place.
The sea has become a prison for them, and they are unhappy with it's condition. They see us rightfully as the cause of the problem. So how can they tell us that they have a problem? They beach themselves and die in protest.
Why aren't people interpreting their sacrifice?
I think it's primarily because we don't see them as intelligent. If we did, we'd try to interpret their act. So scientists look for scientific reasons rather than social ones. If a bunch of humans deceided to all kill themselves to prove a point, we'd interpret it as a message, not a problem with the weather conditions, navigational errors, un-natural herding, foolishly chasing prey, or electronic equiptment messing with their brains.
There would be no reason for humans to intentionally stick a knife in their cheast so there can't be a reason for whale to intentionally beach themselves. But wait; humans do this, time and time again humans kill themselves to make a point. We are amazing at deluding ourselves!
So what will it take for the whales to get noticed, what will it take for us to see that they are trying to tell us something? Nothing short of a global beaching, if all the whales in all the world beached at the same time across the globe, surely that would be interpreted as a message, and we wouldn't just help them back into the sea thinking it was a mistake?
It is an unhappy coincedence that their message of death will actually help their own species, a natural cull by volunteers will not only send a message, but also leave more food for their relatives. No doubt someone will actually site this as the primary reason, must we be the only intelligence!