Orcas, humans and intelligence | Guest column

By Martin LeFevre

Orcas Island

As most people on Orcas Island know, it was not named after the orca, frequently observed in the waters off the island, but after the Viceroy of Mexico, Horcasitas, who sent an exploratory expedition to the Pacific Northwest in 1791.

Coincidence or not, probably the smartest animal on Earth, other than humans, is the orca, projectively known as “Killer Whales.” Of course, smarts, as seen with humans, are a very different thing than intelligence.

But just what is intelligence, and would an extraterrestrial species recognize Homo sapiens as an intelligent species?

Here on Earth, orcas never kill humans in the wild, though they have killed a few people in captivity. Why in both cases?

One answer scientists give to the first case is that “Killer Whales seem to follow rules that go beyond instinct and border on culture, and that it may very well be that within ‘orca culture’ there is a social norm not to go after people.”

It’s been reported, “Many nomadic killer whales have gravitated to humans, bonding with them and playing games.” Perhaps there are clues in that behavior.

Different orca cultures hunt different animals, and orcas have even been observed hunting, killing and scaring the bejesus out of Great Whites off the coast of California. They recognize members of their own group and mix with members of other groups – without the tribalistic warfare that characterizes man.

With respect to the second part of the question, the comforting idea that orcas have killed their trainers out of “play getting out of hand” just doesn’t wash. If orcas are smart enough to have distinct cultures, they’re smart enough to go bad under terrible conditions, like people do, and feel hatred and the intent to kill, like people do.

Given how man is plundering the planet, we’re running out of room for error, and urgently need to understand our place in nature, and the universe.

In the seas, which make up 70% of the Earth’s surface, the orca is the apex predator. They clearly recognize another apex predator in Homo sapiens, and even seem to defer to us, since very little goes into orca training in captivity.

Orcas almost certainly don’t mentally construct and live in terms of a self, as humans do. Transcending thought and self-centered activity is the next level of consciousness that the human species has yet to attain.

Intelligence is, at the bottom, the realization of a spiritual and philosophical capacity, and as humans, we haven’t made the grade.

Materialists, who insist that life is merely chemistry and randomness, set up and knock down the easy straw man of organized religion and its belief systems. They go further, however, maintaining that mystical experiencing “fundamentally opposes the impersonal nature of the universe.”

That’s deeply mistaken because mystics do no such thing. In fact, we maintain that experiencing the numinous can only occur when the personal dimension is completely set aside, and the noisy, self-centered mind falls completely still.