Orcas are showing us that collective organization is not only crucial but also instinctual
By Dylan Lewis
During the past week, the ocean dominated headlines prompting us to reflect on catastrophe, capitalism, media and more. A ship carrying over 800 refugees and migrants drowned off the coast of Greece, resulting in the deaths of hundreds of people. This crisis was overshadowed by the media’s preoccupation with a missing submarine carrying five billionaires who sought to get up close to the infamous sunken Titanic ship. Finally, amidst these contrasting narratives, the orca whales emerged to teach us a crucial lesson about taking a stand as they defended the ocean by destroying yachts.
Forced migration by way of sea is a narrative that we know ends in tragedy. The fishing trawler carrying refugees and migrants from Pakistan, Syria, Egypt and Palestine had just made it across the Mediterranean when it began drifting. The boat was at sea for hours before capsizing and eventually sinking. According to Al-Jazeera, the Greek coast guard first claimed that there were no calls for help made; however, further investigation found that there were numerous calls that reached them, yet there was still no response. A byproduct of the same racial capitalism that fueled the transatlantic slave trade, this tragedy is a stark reminder of the anti-immigration stance prevalent throughout both the European Union and the United States. The media’s biased coverage of this event reinforces the racism that permeates our society, as the sinking of a handful of billionaires was prioritized over the deaths of hundreds unfolding right before our eyes.
While popular culture often associates the Titanic with a timeless love story, the historical reality tells a tale of a voyage steeped in opulence, privilege and elitism that was cut short when it crashed into an iceberg. Just over 110 years later, we watched in fear as a group of wealthy elites suffered the same fate as they attempted to see the original Titanic at the bottom of the ocean. Driven by the allure of “submersible tourism,” these individuals paid a quarter of a million dollars to go on a trip that ended in their demise. This Icarus-like tale serves as a reminder of our current climate crisis. When we commodify our environment, there is invariably a price to pay. While we mourn the lives lost on the submarine, we must also confront the human actions resulting in the decline of our planet and the way that the planet will adapt and fight back against human attempts at dominance.
Alexis Pauline Gumbs asks in their book, Undrowned: Black Feminist Lessons from Marine Mammals, “What can we learn from the orca, for example, about the sad farce of human dominion?” The same week as these other events, social media erupted in glee as orca whales took the climate fight into their own hands by ramming into ships and attempting to destroy them off the coasts of Spain and Portugal. This prompted memes with titles like “Orcas for abolition” and phrases such as “we gotta orcanize.” Beneath the humor lies important symbolism — which is that the orcas are leading by example in fighting against human attempts to exploit the ocean. They are showing us that collective organization and resisting environmental destruction are not only crucial but also instinctual. Some have argued that the orca’s actions are merely playful, devoid of human notions of activism; however, their efforts still operate in the wake of capitalism and work to gradually unravel its proven destructive influence. By reminding us that humans are not the ones that dominate the ocean, but vice versa, the orcas embody our struggle for liberation.
The current climate crisis is a direct result of capitalism and greed. As these toxic forces have continuously leeched into our oceans, we see boats not able to withstand the changing tide, billionaires drowning as a result of their own hubris and orca whales taking the fight into their own hands. A reflection of the crisis we’re living in, the events of the previous week serve as a sharp reminder that in attempting to control the earth, we are ultimately hurting ourselves. The refugees that drowned at sea were a casualty of a war fully outside of their own making, but before we offer half-baked sympathies we have to ask ourselves how we can organize to forge a way forward and follow what the tides are already telling us; we just have to choose to listen.