Sunday, April 18, 2010

You Don't Mess With The Orca

As a recreational writer with the occasional journalistic tendency (that is, I blog every now and then), I am often bothered by the way news is reported, whether in written form or on the six o'clock bulletin. In my opinion, the two biggest errors in journalism are over-sensationalisation of stories, and misleading headlines. Especially when the two are combined, usually with scientifically inaccurate statements and illogical assumptiosn from misunderstood statistical data. That's what really irks me. But anyway. I found an example of this on Thursday in the following article:

When I saw that headline, I was quite surprised. The accepted models of cetacean behaviour usually dictate that orca (Orcinus orca) prey on whales, not the other way around. The term "killer whale" for orca actually came from the name "whale killer", which arose from the fact that they... kill whales.  Groups of orca can take down blue whales, the world's largest animals, by working as a team and ripping out their tongues. There's not a lot that can stand up to an orca. Seals, sharks and dolphins are all fair game for them.

So I wondered what sort of whale would "make a meal" of an orca. I clicked the link to find out and was dissapointed by the opening sentence/paragraph:

"A boatload of tourists got to witness nature at its most brutal when a killer whale flicked a pseudo orca high into the air, broke its back and ate both it and its calf in the Bay of Islands yesterday."

Now, that headline said that a whale killed an orca.

No it didn't!

An orca killed a whale!

That's an important distinction!

Pseudo orca (Pseudorca crassidens, or false killer whales) are fairly average-looking porpoise-like critters, smaller than orca but bigger than dolphins. Sort of black in colour. Like real orca, they're members of the dolphin family (Delphinidae). No matter what you define a "whale" as, orca and pseudo orca have the same degree of whaleness. You can't refer to pseudo orca as "orca" if there are real orca in the same situation! That's like telling a story about a sea lion being attacked by a real lion, and saying that "a cat attacked a lion. Although lions are cats, sea lions are not lions, and pseudo orca are not orca.

The moral of the story is that I really, really dislike inaccurate, misleading or ambiguous reporting of facts. Not just in journalism. People do it all the time. My request to those of you that do: stop it.

There's one more lesson to be taken away from this though, and that is that orca (Orcinus orca) are quite good at killing stuff. Don't try to pick a fight with one.

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