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The Real Reason Orcas and Dolphins are Called "Evil"

Note: I strongly suggest to the reader, before judging this passage, to read it in its entirety.

Dolphin species (orca whales, bottlenose dolphins, pilot whales, ect.) are often hailed as benevolent, friendly, free-spiritual, and sometimes even god-like. I've observed people make the claim that they are smarter than humans, have a higher level of conciseness than us (whatever that means), and that us humans should aspire to be like them in nearly every way.

And also apparently I am a horrible, selfish, and arrogant person who could never approach the grandeur of cetacean-hood. I keep non-domesticated pets (dun dun duuuun!). What’s worse, I belong to a species that is mostly unwilling to forfeit a natural diet in the name of ethics, engages in war, and destroys the Earth.

Transient Orca attacking a gray whale calf

Transient Orca attacking a gray whale calf

Ever Heard These Complaints About the Human Species Before?

Of course you have. Viewing humans as the scourge of the Earth is a kind of ideological sentiment that is spreading like malignant cells (something human population growth is also often compared to).

In fact, I have a superior understanding of this because many times, I have felt this way and occasionally still do. It’s hard not to when you bear witness to the numerous and endless atrocities we collectively as a species commit.

Yet, because this is true, people become irrational and desperate, and start looking toward examples in the animal kingdom as a beacon of innocence and beauty, seemingly because that’s everything they believe our species should aspire to be.

Dolphins Are Getting Away with Murder

Nothing seems to thrill humans and mega-fauna lovers (distinct from 'animal lovers' or nature lovers) as much as animals with qualities that they consider to be power, beauty, and intelligence.

People seem to have a special place in their hearts for animals such as horses, wolves, elephants, and of course, dolphins.

I myself, am a bug person, which is considered a little unique. How on Earth am I able to love mosquitoes, people wonder?

They can of course make outdoor excursions miserable for humans and even spread vicious illness in undeveloped countries. Why would these horrid animals choose to bring forth this suffering on to humans? My answer is this: well, for one thing, they can’t really tout a complex brain allowing them to consider ethics and the effects they are having on people.

More importantly, if they stopped sucking blood to feed their babies, they would cease to exist. I guess it is surprising to mega-fauna lovers that small insects also have self-preservation instincts and aren’t concerned with human discomfort in which they would have the commit mass suicide to promote (this would also lead to ecological damage and a loss of biodiversity).

Dolphins on the other hand, with an emphasis on orca whales (or killer whales) are another story entirely.

The only thing more bewildering than the existence of people who are trying to achieve human rights for cetaceans is the fact that a good number of people are actually considering their proposals.

Yet it appears to be difficult for people to realize that the cetacean rights movements are a facet of the animal rights movement. Such an ideology seeks to end human interaction and use of animals entirely. Unfortunately, the movement gains a lot of momentum because our society’s love for dolphins is so fixed.

I think dolphins can thank captivity for a large part of the reason that this is so. Either way, many people have such a strong affliction for the creatures that they near view them as mystical beings.

Man [has] always assumed that he was more intelligent than dolphins because he had achieved so much-the wheel, New York, wars and so on-while all the dolphins had ever done was muck about in the water having a good time. But conversely, the dolphins had always believed that they were far more intelligent than man-for precisely the same reason.

— Douglas Adams

Clearly, dolphins are just fun-loving beings which simply choose not to engage in war or follow a dividing religion. Clearly, this is a display of the ultimate of intelligence.

At this point you, the reader, should be rolling your eyes. Obviously, the animals do not possess the ability to enter such an ideological conflict of ideas. And trust me, smaller dolphin species do have something worth fighting for, such as being killed by a larger species of dolphin like orca whales, otherwise known as killer whales (which is a very fitting name).

But orca whales are just doing what they need to do to survive, right?

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There is a strong possibility that this isn't always to case.

For the longest time I had to accept the explanation from killer whale fans that the torture of seals and cetaceans perpetuated by the transient orca whale pods was purely a survival protocol to teach the youngsters how to hunt.

However, an interesting fact that I was not taught in animal science classes is that orca whales do not need to eat seals or cetaceans. Apparently killer whales are highly opportunistic with their diets, and while some mostly eat fish, others choose to consume cetaceans and pinnipeds. The food choices are apparently ‘cultural’ (one reason why people think they should have human rights and be considered human equivalents) along with their traveling behavior and ‘languages’.

When I first heard this, I was like “oh I didn’t know that….WAIT...”.

Orcas routinely kill pelicans to play with them, to the delight of the audience, since they are 'only' birds anyway.

Do Orca Whales Kill for Fun?

It turns out that there was more validity to my earlier statements than I was led to believe. Orca whales do not need to torture their prey to survive (or thrive). Their torture of fellow equally intelligent and emotional ocean-mates is a ‘cultural choice’. Humans love to celebrate this fact but do not come to the same conclusions as I do because they have devotion-fueled reasoning which shapes their view of the animals. Not only do orcas kill, but they enjoy the hell out of it--similar to humans who pleasure hunt and pose, all smiles, next to their dispatched victims. When humans do this, it enrages many...but no one cares when animals that are said to be emotional, empathetic, and nearly as intelligent as we are do the same. In fact, in a segment of a killer whale documentary, the field scientist describes this with glee, suggesting the animals are ‘high fiving’ each other after a successful hunt.

“Killer whales, for instance, do not kill or even seriously harm one another in the wild, despite the fact that there is competition for prey and mates and there are disagreements. Their social rules prohibit real violence, and they seem to have worked out a way to peacefully manage the partitioning of resources among different groups. That is something we humans haven’t done yet.”

-Lori Marino's fanciful view on how whales may trump us in the 'intelligence' department.

Drowning Whale Babies

A little more disturbing are the ‘sub-cultural’ groups of orcas that spend a good 2-6 hours trying to separate a baby calf that the mother grey whale has carried (gestation is approximately 13.5 months, and they give birth once every couple of years) and nurtured for over a year.

Again, consider that this animal is similarly or equally as intelligent as the orcas, and many will tell you that cetaceans are similarly and equally as intelligent and emotional as humans (or perhaps more, they will say).

The orcas know what they’re doing, and they know what the mother is going through emotionally. At least, according to the people who think they are humans with flippers. The orca whales chase the new parent until she and her calf succumb to exhaustion, and try to drown her baby.

It can be argued that a mother losing a child is one of the greatest emotional pains a person can experience, and orca whales bring it upon grey whales so they can only eat the baby’s tongue, throat, and lip. You read that correctly.

Gray Whale Calf Killed by Orcas. Note the rake marks.

Gray Whale Calf Killed by Orcas. Note the rake marks.

The remains of the grey whale calf, on its way to happy hagfish.

The remains of the grey whale calf, on its way to happy hagfish.

Apparently, it is a ‘delicacy’ to orca whales, like fois gras or veal is to humans. Orca whales subject animals with similar intelligence to themselves over this meager portion. When you look at the fact that these animals have similar intelligence, it becomes clear that orcas preying on cetaceans would not be unlike humans choosing to exclusively consume chimpanzees and gorillas (but even worse).

I would say, arguably, that killing a whale's baby is the most 'unehtical' food choice in the world. After the suffering and mental agony of both mother and child ends when the baby is finally killed, the mother, highly emotional as any cetacean lover can attest to, gets to endure similar mental suffering to that of a human for some time afterwards.

Dolphins Kill on 'Porpoise'

Apologies for the bad pun; bottle-nosed dolphins are probably the most popular and beloved dolphin species next to orcas, and there are instances of them killing for no reason. In fact, they bully and brutally kill their smaller cetacean cousins, porpoises, by breaking their jaw and fracturing their ribs. The severity and cruelty of this act may be overshadowed by the concealment of the ocean.

There are several theories why this may occur, such as territoriality and hormonal rage of newly mature males. Some say this may be due to food competition (which would in fact, seem to contradict the perpetrated idea of nature being a wonderful paradise, if such empathic animals would need to resort to brutal murder in order to survive). I don't pretend to have a definitive answer, but none of the probable explanations are painting these animals in the best light.

Dead porpoise with rake marks made by you know who.

Dead porpoise with rake marks made by you know who.

So let’s return again to my earlier point about humans who appreciate and adore these animals. It’s interesting that they would be in denial about the prospects that orcas ignore the suffering of their own kind to enjoy the pleasure of the hunt or the taste of the meat, just as humans are accused of (and are criticized by many fellow humans for not dropping every animal-based ingredient to ‘go vegan’).

It’s also interesting that when I bring up these points, all of the sudden people want to deny orca whale ‘human-ness’ and attribute their behavior to animal instinct.

Whales to most people are only intelligent and aware when they are doing the nice things that television glorifies about them. When they are pleasure killing and enjoying the wasteful death of a baby grey whale, they are animals too dumb to understand what they are doing.

Life is not so simple.

Life is not so simple.

People will also race to come up with explanations on why all of my thoughts on these animals are invalid, simply because, I guess, the idealized image that humans have of dolphins couldn't possibly be wrong. Others may adopt another perspective, and accept that these ‘intelligent’ beings, since they are like us, are bound to do some unethical things. Maybe since their intelligence makes them similar to us, I should appreciate them more. And yet again, this is another issue I have with people.

Dolphins and 'Human Ego'

Here’s where irony and human hypocrisy become interesting. Supposedly, I’m ‘arrogant’ for criticizing the idea that cetaceans deserve rights or extra respect due to their ‘intelligence’, yet, I am expected to appreciate animals based on their ‘human’ qualities.

Megafauna lovers cannot understand why I don’t hate mosquitoes, but would consider me a bigot for not treating other animals as equals or undermining their alleged intelligence. It seems to me that the human devotion to cetaceans is another form of human ego, because humans essentially see themselves in the animals and that is why they honor them over other species.

Humans also love that killer whales are not so killer when it comes to attacks against their own species. In the wild, there has even been a reported isolated incident of orca cannibalism, but human meat has never tickled their fancy. So we appreciate that they do not prey upon the world’s most ‘important’ animal, while animals like sharks to many are nothing but ruthless, emotionless killing machines because of a relatively small amount of incidences in which they have attacked people.

I sternly believe that mega fauna appreciation is another form of human self-obsession, wrapped up in subconscious disdain for the fact that humans have flaws (based on our own desired standards that do not exist in the rest of the animal kingdom), which they believe 'shouldn't exist'. But it does exist, it has never not existed, and it isn't going anywhere. I guess that's how 'mother nature' wanted it. It’s clear where the true arrogance lies.

The fundamental building blocks of the intelligence of killer whales and dolphins are possibly not so analogous to that of our own. Therefore, it is unsurprising that, as is falsely assumed otherwise, they are not so peaceful outside of their need to eat for survival.

The mechanism that drives orcas to branch out and sample dolphins and whale babies does have a possible evolutionary advantage in exploiting other resources and promoting genetic variation. But these are animals that people claim are nearly intelligent as we are, and more importantly, that we should give them rights for it while they can’t even do so for themselves. Where are the orcas that are willing to stand up to the baby grey whale eaters? Either way, I finally have valid confirmation on why I’ve never been a fan of most members of the dolphin family.

Questions and comments encouraged! What do you think?


Iñaki on August 18, 2017:

I used to believe Orcas choked people to death. Because the word "Orca" is similar to the Spanish "Ahorca" ("to choke").

anonymous on November 13, 2016:

You're hypocritical yourself, Luis. Honestly, you claim that orcas are neither good nor but claim that they won't win. You make me ashamed to be human! I'd rather have killer whales and dolphins win against humans.

As for that mammal thing, mammals are my least group of animals. My least favorite ones are humans. Therefore, I favor reptiles over every other animal.

Luis on October 27, 2016:

It's a mammals thing. We love, we eat, we have fun, and we kill. Humans can explain and try to justify their actions. Other mammals cannot. We can all try to "understand" but reality is that Orcas are not "good" or "bad", they are just another species that if in confrontation with us, they will not win.

anonymous on March 28, 2016:

I can't believe you, Melissa! First, you don't want anyone who reads this hub to judge you badly. Next, you claim that you're a horrible, selfish, and arrogant person. What's up with you?!

Melissa A Smith (author) from New York on March 11, 2016:


Paleosaver on February 25, 2016:

I was thrilled to read this. I was afraid this level of common sense had gone from the world. Apparently it has not. Keep up the good work. Thinking of this caliber is far too rare. In fact thinking of any kind is far too rare these days, most people just use their emotions to get through life without nary a logical reason for anything. Knee jerk 24/7.

darkcould on February 01, 2016:

There is one known example of orca and human cooperation to kill gray whales, known as Killers in Eden. In Eden, Australia, orcas figured that humans can kill adult whales, pray that is near impossible for orcas to kill. So, they would herd whale toward shore and 1 or 2 orcas would alert human whalers on shore. Later they would guide boats to gray whale and as reward would get to eat lips and tongue. This went on for many years.

Point is, humans and orcas are top predators and top predators can and will eat what they want, in long run it improves skills and evolutionary survival. Evolution is cruel, life is cruel, survival is cruel in its many forms. Learning new things improves evolutionary survival chances even if it means killing intelligent life forms and also the more different foods species lives on drastically improves survival chances as a species...

Anonymous on December 20, 2015:

Incredible article. I share many(if not all) of the same views that you hold on the subject - I've always just been unable to articulate them quite so well!

Helen Stuart from Deep in the Heart of Texas on August 17, 2015:

It's all part of the mystery we should keep trying to understand. Humans are animals, after all, aren't we? YES. So there is definitely something magical sewn into some part of us, is it our spirit? That is appalled, sometimes unto death, when we witness inhumane cruelty, or butchery, or acts of savagery from one human to another, a human to an animal, or an animal to another animal, while the animal looks on as if "eh, that's life." But this isn't true of the mother defending her young, in many cases, although the female Tiger knows that she must eat first even at the expense of some of her kittens starving. There is no martyrdom there, If the mother said, "No, no, you children eat first, I'll get along." Then soon the whole family would die because the mother could not produce milk or have enough strength to defend the den. This is still a miraculous life. Can you imagine living life undersea? I'm not speaking as a scholar or a philosopher, just some person who likes swimming pools because of an innate terror of that which brushes past my leg. Your post has really got people thinking. I read creepkillers comment and just laughed and laughed. It is the wide held opinion of so many people (scientists) that if you took humans off the planet there would be no damage to it, in fact it would start healing, but if you took some vague little spider off , it would all start falling to hell. It's a very trendy way to talk and think, so creepkiller, you are actually one of those , what do you call them, oh yeah, hipsters. I am so tired of the anti human movement. Its all BS. Its fantastic that we have something in us that animals don't have. It's magic. It's part angel. And look at your most loved pet. It's rubbing off on him or her. Even if it does bring you a dead mouse.

Corey on August 12, 2015:

I can't agree more with you Melissa. People blame humans for acting immoral when we can also fix the unethical things, and yet, when dolphins kill for fun or no reason at all, they always have an excuse that it's 'just nature'. It's not just stereotyping humans, this happens with other 'bad' animals, when they naturally need to kill, are independent or gentle creature such as sharks, canines, felines, arthropods, etc. Great hub!

Melissa A Smith (author) from New York on June 22, 2015:

Thank you helen!

Helen Stuart from Deep in the Heart of Texas on June 22, 2015:

Wow, you have a ton of comments. You did help me think differently, so thanks for that. Nature is brutal and bloody and cruel and beautiful. So don't just pick on cetaceans, because they have been worshipped by the hippy dippys. The pendulum may swing back the other way. It's all bad, but it's all good.

Nancy on May 07, 2015:

I don't have much knowledge on cetaceans. All I know is that they can be friendly too if they know that you are not threat to them. I'm glad that you give me more knowledge about them. Thanks!

Joe Keck on April 15, 2015:

They humanize apes and cetaceans because they have the idea that these creatures are pre-evoleved from our species. 'Apes look like us and we used to be whales.'

Truth is, anything that will vitiate the concept of a morally immovable and immutable God must be held onto with a white-knuckled grip.

Good article, mostly very well done. I enjoyed it very much.

By the way, there is compelling evidence that dogs are more intelligent that apes, and I believe the same is probably true regarding cetaceans. It is absolutely mind-blowing what some dogs have demonstrated in clinical studies.

But they don't look like us.

However, fear not! When dogs are proven more cognitively advanced than all other animals, they'll say we "evolved" from them as well some millions of years ago.

Keep up the good work, Mellissa.

Melissa A Smith (author) from New York on March 27, 2015:

Thanks Gerardo, my article is basically saying either you believe orcas/dolphins are like humans, which would make them just as evil as us, or you don't. And while humans have plenty of evils, we also have a huge amount of situations where we help animals that I'm sure exceeds all dolphins.

Gerardo on March 27, 2015:

Hi Melissa,

Your post is brilliant at one level and a big let-down at the other.

On the one hand you are spot on about human arrogance and willingness to turn a blind eye to unconfortable facts.

At the same time, you miss the thing that proves that orcas are really like us: it seems that because of their intelligence and culture, some of them engage in horrible, cruel acts. But humans sometimes do monstruous things too. Does this mean humans and orcas are "evil" by nature? I would be inclined to say no because there are humans who don't do horrible things, and perhaps not all orcas engage in cruel acts.

Even if they did, however, prove to be generally cruel animals, we have a moral obligation to be better than them and respect the fact that they are highly sensitive beings (even if they themselves sometimes fail to respect that quality in other species).

Thanks a lot for your insights!

Melissa A Smith (author) from New York on March 26, 2015:

The title is only partially misleading. I want it to be found by people looking for pages on that 'evil' claim, although I don't feel that term can be applied to any animal. Plus, I've somewhat reversed my opinion since writing this, or refined it. I couldn't determine if dolphins should be seen as malicious since scientists claim they have high awareness of what they're doing, but now I've settled that dolphins are indeed still animals and cannot be judged differently from other animals. This article just states what dolphins should be considered if someone opts to perceive them as humans. Most importantly, animals shouldn't be seen as 'moral' when there are just as many, if not more examples of them doing something we consider 'evil' than 'good'. That is just selective memory bias.

Awesomebluefire on March 26, 2015:

Interesting opinion piece. Misleading title though. Might just be me but using words such as evil imply morality existing where it doesn't. Personal opinion is that such animals should not be kept in captivity because it is such a pain to create a ideal environment for them as opposed to say dogs which only really require food, decent bedding and walks to be comfortable.That is subjective mostly and partially because I would rather see them jumping off the bow of a ship instead of in a big ole fish tank.