WTF Fun Fact 13438 – Killer Whales are Dolphins

Here’s a bit of trivia that might just turn your marine world upside down: killer whales, also known as orcas, aren’t whales. They’re actually the largest dolphins in the sea! That’s right, Shamu, the poster child for what we envision when we think of whales, is really more Flipper than Moby Dick.

Are orcas whales or dolphins?

Orcas, known for their black bodies, striking white patches, and formidable size, are a sight to behold. However, despite their common name – killer “whale” – these majestic creatures are more closely related to their smaller, playful dolphin cousins.

Now, this might seem like a marine biologist trying to mess with you, but it’s all in the scientific classification. Orcas are part of the oceanic dolphin family, known as Delphinidae, which includes other well-known species like the bottlenose dolphin and the common dolphin. Essentially, all killer whales are dolphins, but not all dolphins are killer whales.

In fact, the orca’s scientific name, Orcinus orca, loosely translates to ‘demon from hell’, a nod to their reputation as fierce hunters. But don’t let the ominous name scare you, these creatures are incredibly intelligent and social.

Orcas, like their dolphin relatives, are known for their intelligence and complex social structures. They live in tight-knit groups known as pods, led by a matriarch, often the oldest female. Within these pods, they communicate using a series of clicks, whistles, and body movements.

What’s fascinating about orcas is that different pods can have different cultures, dialects, hunting techniques, and even dietary preferences. This level of cultural diversity is virtually unheard of outside of human societies, further cementing their place in the pantheon of intelligent life on Earth.

Classifying creatures

However, their classification as dolphins doesn’t make them any less ‘killer’. They are apex predators, the top of the food chain, preying on seals, fish, squid, and even other whales. Their name, ‘killer whale’, is actually a bit of a misnomer. It originates from the term ‘whale killer’, coined by sailors who observed these dolphins attacking larger whales.

Despite being top predators, orcas face a host of challenges in the modern world, ranging from pollution and loss of prey to climate change and captivity. Our understanding of orcas, their behaviors, and their needs, is crucial for their protection.

Perhaps one of the best ways we can appreciate orcas is to realize that they’re not so different from us. They’re intelligent, they’re social, they’re diverse, and they’re vulnerable. They’re dolphins that have adapted to their environment in remarkable ways, rising to the top of the oceanic food chain.

So next time you hear the term “killer whale”, remember, these magnificent creatures are actually the ocean’s largest dolphins. Just another example of how the natural world continues to surprise and inspire us!

 WTF fun facts

Source: “Is an orca (killer whale) a whale or a dolphin?” — WDC

WTF Fun Fact 12831 – Sea Sponges Sneeze and Squeeze

It turns out sea sponges get full of mucus and other gunk (which we’re sure there’s a technical name for). And to get rid of this waste, they perform one of the most ancient ways to get rid of waste – that is, sea sponges sneeze to squeeze out the gunk,

Not exactly appetizing, but they aren’t really built in a way to do anything more complex.

Sea sponge sneezing

According to ScienceDaily (cited below), “A group of researchers found that sponges, one of the oldest multicellular organisms in existence, ‘sneeze’ to unclog their internal filter systems that they use to capture nutrients from the water.”

That’s not a super smooth move, but nearby creatures don’t mind – they eat the waste.

But this sneeze is nothing like a human sneeze – in fact, it takes about half an hour to complete.

“Our data suggest that sneezing is an adaptation that sponges evolved to keep themselves clean,” marine biologist Jasper de Goeij told the publication.

Blowing out the waste

Even though our sneezes aren’t the same, they do serve the same purpose – trying to get waste out of our bodies.

Here’s how it works for sponges:

“Sponges gather food for themselves by filtering out organic matter from the water. They draw in and eject water from different openings, and sometimes the sponges will suck in particles that are too big. ‘These are sponges; they can’t just walk to somewhere else when the water around them gets too dirty for them to handle,” said de Goeij.”

When sponge tissues contract, they push waste-containing mucus into the water surrounding them.

Munching on mucus

What the sponges “sneeze” out doesn’t simply all sink to the bottom of the ocean floor. Apparently, that mucus is a prime snack food for other creatures.

“We also observed fish and other animals feeding off of the sponge mucus as food,” says Niklas Kornder, a doctoral researcher in de Goeij’s research group said. “Some organic matter exists in the water surrounding the coral reef, but most of it is not concentrated enough for other animals to eat. Sponges transform this material into eatable mucus.”

While marine biologists believe most sponges sneeze, they’ve only witnessed it in the Caribbean tube sponge (Aplysina archeri) and an Indo-Pacific species of the genus Chelonaplysilla.

While the underwater snot-eating isn’t the most appetizing thing to think about, it does raise some questions for the researchers:

“In the videos, you can see that the mucus moves along defined paths on the surface of the sponge before accumulating. I have some hypotheses, but more analysis is needed to find out what is happening,” says Kornder.  WTF fun facts

Source: “Sponges ‘sneeze’ to dispose of waste” — ScienceDaily

WTF Fun Fact 12822 – How Do Lobsters Communicate?

Apparently, thousands of people look up “how to lobsters communicate” – and we’re guessing it’s because they’ve heard the truth and it’s hard to believe.

When we heard that lobsters communicate with their bladders and that they can make things known to other lobsters by urinating at them, we thought it was a grossly creative form of expression. But it gets even better.

While it might not be the most exact description of what’s happening, no less an institution than the New England Aquarium has informed lobster learners that the creatures actually “pee out of their faces.”

Say what?

Ok, so let’s break this down a bit. First of all, lobsters use scent to communicate (as do humans, to be fair). You’ve heard of pheromones, right? The scented hormone we secrete?

Because this factoid ran rampant around the internet with such gusto, Snopes to it upon themselves to get the details (gotta love those professional fact-checkers!). They describe the scented face-peeing this way:

“Found within a lobster’s pee are a fair number of pheromones, which they disperse through their nephropore rosette glands. The bladder of a lobster is located under its brain, and the rosette glands are connected to the urinary tract.”

Ok, so the key here seems to be the anatomy – the bladder is right under their brain. There’s only so much room in a lobster, and those of us who have eaten them should probably be grateful that we don’t have to pick their bladders out of their tails.

As for the urine stream comes out of their face, Snopes explains further:

“Once these pheromones are produced, they are introduced into the urine stream. In the case of the American lobster, scientific name Homarus americanus, this pheromone-rich pee is released from nephropores at the base of the lobster’s large antennae and then injected into its gill current. According to the NEAQ, it has been determined that this urine stream can reach a length of seven times the lobster’s body.”

Wait, so how do lobsters communicate this way?

You probably still have some questions. Like, what’s a gill current? Well, according to The American Lobster:

Water passes up through openings between the lobster’s legs, over the gills, and up towards the head.  Every few minutes this current of water is reversed the other way so that debris can be flushed out of the chambers. An important part of this “gill current” is that when it is flowing forward towards the head, it can project urine forward. It is thought that the urine of the lobster contains important information about the sex of the lobster and its physiological state.”

Now that we know how lobsters pee out of their faces, we still need to know how and why it works this way. So, back to Snopes (which is cited below and which also has further reading at the bottom of the page for all your legit lobster urine research needs).

When male lobsters want to attract a mate, the females tend to come to him. But he needs to be in a defensive position. As Snopes says: “Their claws are located at the front, which enables the lobster to back into a shelter and face outward toward the entrance, setting up a first line of defense — and attracting a mate.”

Territorial lobster communication

Snopes also cites the conservation organization Oceana, which reports that a male lobster tends to dominate one piece of territory and females wait outside the den to mate with him. To let him know they’re out there, they pee in his direction out of the nozzles on their face.

Hey, who are we to judge?

Of course, the urine contains the pheromones that signal she’s ready to reproduce. So – and here’s another fun fact – she takes off her exoskeleton (basically stripping naked) once she gets into his den to mate. We are seriously not making this up.

Other lobster communication-by-urine tactics

Ok, so there’s one mating ritual out of the way. But females aren’t the only ones who urinate out of their faces to send a message. When males fight, the winner will do the same to signal to any nearby females that he’s the winner and ready to pass on his superior genes to any females nearby. “It’s thought that the winner of a match will also contain more serotonin and happy hormones, making him even more attractive to a would-be match.”

Snopes caps us off with yet another fun fact:

“How does a female return the favor? By peeing in his face, of course. Pheromones released in a female’s urine are thought to reduce the aggression of an embattled male and he’ll often allow the female to enter his burrow, where she might stay for up to two weeks. While the two shack up, the cohabitating female will also be urinating to ward off other ladies in the area — until it’s their turn.”

Lobsters – they’re just like us!  WTF fun facts

Source: “Lobsters ‘Pee’ Out of Their Faces. Here’s Why …” — Snopes

WTF Fun Fact 12606 – Octopuses Getting Punchy

Octopuses are incredibly smart. In fact, we’re only just now starting to learn how their complex brains work.

Take this factoid, for example. Octopuses need so much intellectual stimulation that those in captivity require games and puzzles to keep them from eating off their own arms out of boredom!

But did you know octopuses also have a bit of a mean streak?

Researchers have observed the creatures punching fish in the past – everything from a warning “boop” to a “curl up and let ’em have it” punch. Punching is pretty rare, but in many cases, the researchers could ascertain some reason for the punch. Usually, the octopus was trying to keep the fish from spoiling its meal.

However, sometimes octopuses punch fish for revenge. And revenge isn’t something we usually think of as relevant to underwater creatures.

More recently, Eduardo Sampaio recorded the underwater action. He also concluded that some octopuses seem to haul off and punch their hunting partners for no reason at all. That is, they don’t stand to benefit in any way from punching the fish.

Sampaio even posted a video to Twitter to illustrate the punching action:

So, apparently, “throwing a sucker punch” is yet another factoid we can add to humanity’s ever-growing list of things we know about but can’t explain when it comes to octopuses.

– WTF fun facts

Source: “Octopuses Punch Fish, Sometimes For No Apparent Reason” — NPR

WTF Fun Fact – The Moken’s Perfect Underwater Visions

WTF Fun Fact - The Moken's Perfect Underwater Visions

Children of the Moken tribe of Thailand have a technique to achieve perfect vision underwater. They constrict their pupils and change their lens shape, just like dolphins and seals. They use this ability to hunt for fish, clam and shells to eat. – WTF Fun Facts