Throughout my travels, both domestic and international, I have been constantly amazed by nature’s great diversity – at every corner there seems to be another newly discovered animal species. Sometimes, however, what I believed to be another notch in my belt of animal knowledge turned out to be a familiar animal – with a different name.
A few years ago I went on a most profound trip to Kenya and Tanzania, following what is known as the Great Migration. Every year some 1.5 million wildebeest, 200,000 zebras and 350,000 gazelles graze on the expansive plains of the Serengeti in Tanzania and as food and water become scarce, trek north to the Masai Mara in Kenya. The herds stay in the Mara until its food and water is depleted and then they return to the Serengeti where the cycle continues. This annual journey covers over 1,800 miles and it quite treacherous – approximately 250,000 wildebeest don’t survive. Here are some pics of this incredible caravan:
The wildebeest is a large mammal and has quite a distinctive look – in fact, the wildebeest also looks like it is an amalgam of many other animals – ox (head) horse (mane) stripes hide (zebra) and buffalo (horns). No wonder its Afrikaans name means “wild beast.”
While the wildebeest has multiple names, the next animal suffers from a case of mistaken identity.
KILLER WHALE – These beautiful animals were found on a tour of Alaska’s Kenai Peninsula, specifically through the Kenai Fjords National Park.
Here is a total body shot from the internet:
Weighing up to 6 tons and growing up to 32 feet, these powerful creatures are not whales, nor any type of fish. They are mammals – actually the largest species of dolphin on the planet. And it has razor-sharp teeth which can grow up to 4 inches in length. The orca is indeed a killer – it can bring down seals and even whales. It is extremely intelligent and large pods of orca often hunt like a pack of wolves, working together to bring down their prey. They coordinate their movements so that the schools of fish or shoals into tighter space. They then smack their tails into the shoals with such force that the shock waves stuns the fish and while thus incapacitated, get eaten at the orca’s leisure.
Orcas are also known in the Arctic to swoop down as a team in order to create a slave that will knock a seal off a slab of ice – stills shots taken from the BBC series “The Blue Planet:”
You can just see the seal’s tail sticking out as his body is encompassed by the orca wave.
Ironically, there is another dolphin whose actual name is “false killer whale.” It is black and grey, with the females reaching 17 feet and 2,600 pounds, while the largest males can reach 20 feet and weigh 4,900 pounds. Here are some internet pics as I have never seen one myself.
More misnamed beasties to come…