Monday, November 21, 2011

Orcas On Vacation

Each winter millions of human beings migrate to warmer climes; some to seek a brief respite from the pressures of everyday life back home; others to indulge the senses with food, drink, and companionship; and most just to sit under a warm sun and vegetate. This latter activity invariably ends up with painful sunburns and peeling skin; an unwelcome consequence of too much of a good thing done too fast. But to the Killer Whales who spend most of their lives in the frigid waters off Antarctica shedding their skin is precisely what they seek when they too leave winter far behind.

According to a study reported in ScienceDaily*, one type of Orcas regularly travel from the Southern Ocean to the tropical waters off South America. It seems that living in those icy polar seas contributes to the growth of yellowish algae on their skin, and the Orcas' migration north helps rid them of their old skin and with it the algae. What is even more remarkable is that like their human counterparts, these trips are relatively brief. One Orca was monitored taking the 5,000 mile return trip in just 42 days. (Of course very few of us ever get a 6 week vacation, unless you live in France that is).

So the next time you find yourself sitting on some sunny, pristine beach shedding your skin just think, out there beyond the thin blue line that separates our world from theirs, there may be some big black and white member of the dolphin family doing exactly the same thing.

* J.W. Durban, R. L. Pitman. Antarctic killer whales make rapid, round-trip movements to subtropical waters: evidence for physiological maintenance migrations? Biology Letters, 2011: DOI: 10.1098/rsbl.2011.0875

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