Are you on team orca? Why we want nature to ‘fight back’ in 2023

If 2020 was the year nature recovered, 2023 was the year, supposedly, of nature’s revenge: orcas sinking yachts, javelinas destroying golf courses, and a feisty sea otter stealing the surfboards. As the popular narrative goes, the animals have had enough and they (finally!) revolt against human rule.

Of course, this is not true. These critters do normal animal things that just happen to annoy people. Javelinas, pig-like creatures native to the US Southwest, destroyed a golf course in Sedona, Arizona, because they were rooting for earthworms. Orcas in the Strait of Gibraltar tend to mess with rudders for fun. And Otter 841, the adult female who repeatedly harasses kayakers and surfers in Santa Cruz, California, may be associated with people with food.

When people see these acts as intentional, we are also engaging in a behavior common to our species in telling stories that, although not literally accurate, captures more truth. For example, as climate change makes life on Earth more difficult and unpredictable, it seems nature is fighting back.

As a result, the long-held belief that we humans reign supreme over nature, and that our needs are greater than those of all other animals, seems to be changing, says Geoffrey Whitehall, professor of political science. at Acadia University in Canada.

We usually reserve agency for people, says Whitehall. But animals obviously have interests that are different from our own, and when we know that, when we start to believe that other animals matter, it opens up a lot of interesting conversations.

One of the most touching is the diversity of wealth. Many people see wealthy elites as responsible for many of the situations we face in nature, said Monika Wieland Shields, director of the Orca Behavior Institute in Friday Harbor, Washington. Imagining an orca uprising speaks to our feelings with humor. It keeps us from feeling completely hopeless.

The problem with this type of humor, however, is that it soothes our anxiety without reflecting on our own contributions to these problems, Whitehall said. Whether you’re talking about wildlife or our fellow human beings, the oppressed don’t need us to cheer from the sidelines. They need us to get in the game, for example by reducing our carbon footprint, using less resources, and enacting laws to protect wildlife.

Animals act strangely and we must also act strangely, which requires changes in how we live and even act against our interests, says Whitehall. Golfing in the desert is something I’m willing to give up.

Acts of resistance

Javelinas are an unlikely mascot for any kind of conservation campaign. Named for their spear-like tusks, these smelly creatures average 50 pounds and travel in fearsome groups. People, especially people in Texas, talk about them as giant rats, said Adam Johnson, an anthropologist at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte who studies human-animal conflict.

Javelinas are not aggressive, but their poor eyesight can get them into trouble, Johnson said. Sometimes, when they try to get away from people, they accidentally run into us.

There’s this idea that javelinas are bloodthirsty villains out to hurt you, he said.

Against this backdrop, golf course manager Emily Casey probably expected her peers to sympathize when she awoke one morning to discover that javelinas had caused thousands of dollars in damage to Seven’s pristine fairways. Canyons Golf Club in Sedona, Arizona. What should be one of the most beautiful golf courses in the country has been destroyed by hordes of javelinas, he wrote in social media site, X.

Instead, he was roasted. Sorry you put your golf course in the natural habitat of javelinas. Looks pretty green for a desert, where does the water come from? WRITES an early respondent. Other like-minded commentators quickly gathered: Now this is a 2,000-hole golf course. Change is unstoppable, wrote X user Jonathan Franklin. Soon, the hashtag #teamjavelina started trending on social media in support of the animals, who are just trying to make a living. (See a video of javelina mourning, a human-like emotion.)

Johnson agrees with the #teamjavelinas underlying sentiment.

For me, it is is the a political act of resistance, he said. It is only through their existence that they oppose this imposition of anthropogenic development.


The behavior of shipwrecked orcas is more open to interpretation and some believe there is an orca uprising in the ocean, Shields said.

People often ask, Is it safe to go into the water here and watch whales? Shields said.

When the news about the shipwreck of orcas hit social media, many people quickly interpreted it as compensation and sided with the whales. Memes with orcas saying things like, Eat the Rich, and Orcanize, quickly spread from the internet to the material world, in the form of T-shirts and bumper stickers.

Some people even think that different species work together. Orcas take over the sea. Javelina seized the land. Who will seize the sky? wrote a user on the game forum, ResetEra.

The creators of the #teamorca memes (perhaps intentionally) misinterpreted the behavior of the whale to convey and spread two modern concerns: environmental destruction and wealth. The fact that they destroy the yachts of the rich has a Robin Hood aspect that I think really appeals to people, Shields said.

It’s a fun story, but whales don’t seem to attack boats, Shields said. Their behavior, which includes exploring and experimenting with rudder mechanisms, suggests that they are just having fun.

They’ve sunk four boats now, and it’s like the boats are sinking later, as a result of the damage caused by the loss of the rudder, Shields said. If the target of the whales is the sinking of the yachts, they will collide with the ships and cause a lot of damage.

Although rudder behavior is relatively new, biologists have observed many other trends at play among these intelligent, social creatures. There was a fish-hat craze in 1987, for example, when orcas in Puget Sound began swimming around with dead salmon on their heads. This year, Shields observed his local orcas dragging crab traps by their chains just for kicks. (Read why orcas kill porpoises but don’t eat them.)

The only thing unusual about the whales’ behavior in Gibraltar is how long this trend has lasted, Shields said. Most orca trends fade in less than a year, but the rudder-beating trend has been going strong since 2020 and maybe it’s our fault.

Some boaters near the Gibraltar orcas play music and throw things at them. That might have the opposite response that people expect. This makes it more interesting for the whales, he said. The whales were like, What are people going to do now? Let’s see what kind of reaction we get from them.

Radical rethinking?

In the coming years, human-animal conflict is likely to intensify as climate change continues and resources become more scarce, Johnson said. It remains to be seen whether people are willing to truly side with animals, but some signs say yes.

For example, after Freya, a chunky female walrus who became famous after warming up in the sun and eventually sinking several ships in Norway in 2022, was euthanized, some called the decision hasty and shameful.

The pessimist in me sees #teamorca and #teamjavelina trending, and it’s like social media theater, he said.

But maybe it’s true. Perhaps we are beginning to realize that we need to rethink how we relate to the world and how we position ourselves in it.

#team #orca #nature #fight
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