Monday, April 27, 2015

Training Killer Whales With the Law of the Tongue

Beginning around 1840 whalers
in in Twofold Bay near the town of Eden, Australia hunted whales for meat, blubber, baleen, and oil. A big problem, however was that land-based sailors never knew if the whales were near by. Until "Old Tom," the Orca showed up.

No one knows how it started but the best guess is that the Orca learned that whalers in the bay tossed unused parts of baleen whales overboard -- ready snacks for the Orcas.

In any case, one Orca, who was named "Old Tom," began to swim up the Kiah River and tailslap and breach in front of the whaler's cottages whenever a baleen whale was about -- his signal to the humans that there was a baleen whale in the bay.

In reward for providing notification, Old Tom was always given the baleen whale's tongue, an arraignment which became known as “the law of the tongue.”

Old Tom worked as the Cetacean version of a Judas Goat for more than 50 years until one greedy whaler fought Tom off a small whale and cost Tom several of his teeth.  Infection soon set in, and Tom was no more.


Shannon Gentry said...


Peter Apps said...

Astonishing, thanks - substitute early humans for whalers, mammoths for whales and wolves for orcas and there is a model for the origins of domestic dogs.