A Good Beach Party
Recently, I met a person who hadn’t heard that Killer Whales rub their bodies on beach rocks. Strangely, I was surprised to learn that not everyone knows about this whale behaviour. Really, I knew little, except that it happens; and of a couple of the locations where a lucky person might spot this Killer Whale behaviour in action. The more I learned, the more surprised I became, but this time, about these ocean residents.
The most fascinating thing I discovered was that not all Killer Whales do this rubbing. British Columbia has four groups of Killer Whales, and only one group is known to be the beach-rubbing fanatics. Jackie Hildering, also known as “The Marine Detective,” points out that:
“In BC, the four Killer Whale populations (Northern Resident; Southern Resident; Offshore; and Bigg’s / Transients), overlap in their ranges but the populations have different languages and do NOT mate with one another. Thereby, they preserve the culture and traditions of their populations.”
Apparently, only the BC Northern Residents perform this behaviour, with the exception of, Hildering notes, some AK Pod Alaskan Residents. But why do Killer Whales do this? Well, word on the street is that it looks to be for social bonding, fun, and of course, beach-rubbing feels good.
Hydrophone recordings and Killer Whale language interpretation have considered the sounds of Killer Whales heading for a beach party to be excited; similar to the sounds of glee associated with Killer Whale family get-togethers. Caitlin Birdsall, a researcher with Ocean Wise, describes this sound more fully. She says:
“the whales appeared to easily hone in on the areas with the right type of rocks. How whales discover and remember the location of a rubbing beach is unknown, but it is likely this knowledge is passed down generation to generation, as the same beaches are used for many years. Perhaps the rolling of the stones we can hear through the hydrophone is an acoustic cue the whales use as well?... Amazingly, despite the active behaviour and excited calls, rubbing proceeds in a very orderly manner. Indeed, around us, small groups seemed to take their turn, moving off after they finished allowing other whales to use the spot.”
If you are lucky enough to hang out at a rubbing-beach and then actually see the festivities in action, that is an amazing thing! Let’s take a page from the Killer Whale playbook and enjoy some of that glee they must feel while having a good beach-rubbing party.