Wolves of the Sea or “Things My Brain Does Before Coffee”

You may have noticed that I’m posting every day.  That’s on purpose, and to a large extent intended to offer y’all a little variety.  Rather than being stuck in the rut of promoting something I’ve already published, I’ve elected to branch out.  I suppose I ought to be applying myself to making you believe you want to read essays about dogs or some semi-not-bad poetry, but that had me seriously bogged down in a creative sense.  Perhaps it’s because I’m lazy or inexperienced or any number of things.  I like to believe it’s tied to the fact that my impetus for writing is the sheer variety of experience and thought with which I’m presented on a daily basis.  Take this morning for instance.

 

Waking Up with the Sun Is Not This

As a natural night owl, I can’t manage to quiet my brain until three or four in the morning.  I’ve tried every solution I could find to no avail.  My usual go-to is to be a Day Sleeper.  This is a brilliant idea and works well, unless you happen to have a window that faces east and is of an awkward shape, precluding the use of a shade or curtain.  Every morning, the sun wakes me between 8:30 and 9:30.  Oh, I assure you, I’m not “sleeping in” unless you’re thinking of other people.

This generally means I score about 3 hours of sleep.  I suppose it wouldn’t be so bad if the sun didn’t wake me by burning the flesh on one or both of my feet, making it rather difficult to tell it to bugger off and let me sleep.  Let’s add to this that I’m weird in other ways.  While my brain wakes rather swiftly, my body is more stubborn.  As a consequence, I tend to lie in bed for a bit and wait for my mortal vessel to get used to the idea of being awake.

 

A Mutable Soup

What do you think about when you first wake?  Are you planning for your day ahead, thinking about tasks or bills, deadlines or the needs of others in your household?  I’m not.  I’m thinking about orchids as flowers of the densely shaded canopy, air plants, and how I will never really understand how best to care for them.  This, somehow, oddly transmutes into the image of elephants swimming in water, as viewed from beneath. It’s in black and white, and is rather striking in its awkward grace.

Oh, but the fun is just beginning.  There’s an odd thought about walruses, and that’s the end of everything resembling lazy waking-up-time dream thoughts.  I remember that walruses are related to elephants, manatees to cows, and orcas to wolves more closely than they are related to each other.  Yes, you read that sentence correctly.  Read a bit more about this expression of convergent evolution and what convergent evolution actually is, here.

photoThat’s all it took.  My brain was off and running like it was after the gold medal.  And here I am, awkwardly folded to avoid the pool of slowly seeping sunlight creeping across the bottom half of my bed, just trying to muster up the resolve to get up and make coffee.    Because I’ve resigned myself to the fact that I am now awake.  Because normal people were all up hours ago.  Because I feel the need to move to try and escape this weird nerd-spiral into which my brain has just fallen.

 

Sea Puppies and Blessed Coffee by the Gallon

We all know you can’t run away from yourself, but damn it, I’m going to try, because this train of thought is growing weirder by the moment.

Y’all should probably take what follows with as many grains of salt as you’ve got on hand.  I don’t want anyone citing me as an authority on Paleozoology, Genetics, or Cetacean Biology, because it just isn’t so.  These are the things my brain does while I’m staring at the coffee perking into the pot.  I have a broad education and an overactive, pattern oriented mind.  Things…happen in there for which I cannot take credit.

Given that killer whales and wolves share a common ancestor from around 300 mya, I got to thinking about the small amount of reading I’ve done on these whales.  Unlike many other species of cetaceans, they appear to display some remarkable variation in feeding preference and behavior between pods.  I began to see all manner of connections between how canids behave and organize themselves and the ways in which orcas do.

They have a pack structure, much like canids, which is organized along hierarchical lines. They’re also of the toothy variety of cetaceans, and known to hunt a wide array of sea creatures, including walruses, leopard seals, and other whales.  They are most assuredly predators, not pettable creatures.  Research has revealed that they tailor hunting behaviors and stalk aquatic prey in a similar way to wild, pack-dwelling canids.

Some pods favor seals, some other whales, and some even snatch the occasional shark.  They present definite and varied lines of taste, hunting technique, and other behavioral variants within a relatively stable social hierarchy. Could orcas be sea wolves in a more literal sense than we might suspect? 300 million years is a long time, and I don’t have the genetic data to substantiate my musings, but it’s interesting to ponder.

Then, I thought about dogs. I know there’s been a great deal of controversy over the captivity of wild-caught orcas, lately, and I don’t want you to think I’m making a statement either way. I’ll reserve my opinions on zoos of all types for the moment.  What I’m talking about is a predisposition to domestication.  Could the genetic commonalities still borne within this very different species perhaps lend them to captivity more than other species of whales?  Beyond size, why do we not see other types of cetaceans at Sea World more often?  Why only orcas?

What is it about one of the most actively dangerous whale species to which we are drawn and that makes them tolerate (well or poorly) the confines of a liquid cage?

 

I’m going to curtail this entry here, because a discussion of the concepts of convergent evolution as it might be applied to human sociality doesn’t fit, even though it was very much a part of my morning thought soup.  I chose to follow one line and will perhaps pick up the other at a later time.  For now, I’m going to leave you with the image of black and white dogs with fins, patrolling and marking their territory against others, hunting as a pack in the deep, cold waters of the World Ocean.

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8 thoughts on “Wolves of the Sea or “Things My Brain Does Before Coffee”

      1. I think it’s simply a financial decision. Until the recent exposes and reports of orca abuses, the shamu shows were a goldmine. I think Seaworld paid millions for a whale. As for the comparison with dogs, the dog and humans have a very special symbiotic relationship that’s developed over the past few millennia. And they still like to hunt, the dogs, that is.

      2. I know. I wrote a book that drew heavily on my advanced education in anthropology and explored the commensal dynamic between dogs and humans. Dogs were the first species to be domesticated, a development that preceded both agriculture and prolonged sedentism by 4,000 years. It’s also why I likely drew the connection, because I have done so much research on the genetic structures of canid species and the genetic precursors of dogs, the Eurasian wolf.

      3. Wow, that’s great. It’s certainly an interesting topic. It’s an emotional bond that’s developed, albeit differently in different cultures.

      4. Yes, the number of permutations in the role of Dog is amazing. Some accuse me of being overly sentimental in my appraisal, simply because I’m personally a total sucker for all dogs. But I have studied cultures where they were domesticated unproblematically as both food source and companion. The Xolo, for example.

  1. I think it’s also important to note the interactive propensity of the cetacean species in captivity. More than their more manageable size, they exhibit a marked tendency toward human interaction, far greater than that of their much larger whale family members. They are interactive and responsive, which is likely what made their exhibits so lucrative in the first place, beyond simple wonder at so large an animal (and they are large, up close.) again, here’s where my brain drew connections, however tenuous. I can’t speak to cetacean genetic data. I don’t have that information.

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