Maybe you thought the apocalypse would come from a nuclear war or climate change or revolting sentient robots or something. But after reading about a strange new humpback whale behaviour, you might want to add a cetacean coup to your list.
The growing whale army (Image: Findlay et al)
Researchers observed 22 instances of humpback whales gathering in never-before-seen groups of 20 to 200 whales, on three separate trips off the southwest coast of South Africa. The study's authors write that such large aggregations haven't been recorded on prior research trips except for one sighting of 20 whales, which was more likely a number of smaller groups. Changes in the whales' prey, or a growing population, might be leading to the new behaviour. Or maybe the whales are plotting to take down humanity.
"It's quite unusual to see them in such large groups," Gísli Vikingsson, head of whale research at the Marine and Freshwater Research Institute in Iceland told New Scientist.
The researchers took to the seas to observe the whale's feeding and migratory behaviours. Humpbacks normally feed on krill in the Southern Ocean surrounding Antarctica in the summers, then travel northwards to more tropical waters to birth and raise their young. On trips in the autumns of 2011, 2014 and 2015, the scientists observed new so-called super-groups of whales feeding much further north than they'd expect — near South Africa, rather than near Antarctica. They published their results last week in the journal PLoS One.
There are plenty of theories surrounding the emergence of these groups. The researchers suggest there may be changes in the availability of prey, or maybe there are simply more whales. After all, as New Scientist reports, whalers decimated humpback populations a century ago, so maybe this is a natural behaviour that's coming back as the whales' numbers increase.
But this is science. Until one of these hypotheses is proven with evidence, Gizmodo's hypothesis is probably equally likely: The whales have a plot to take down humanity, to reclaim the waters for themselves and eventually, to migrate onto the land and into the beautiful cities and farms we've built.
It makes sense. Whales have large, complex brains. We treat our captive whales like shit. And maybe they started to realise that the ocean's falling oxygen levels are, in fact, the fault of those same two legged mammals who harpooned their grandparents. What do you think that whale was doing swimming up New York's Hudson River a few months ago? Probably spying on behalf of the whale armies plotting the imminent whalepocalypse.
Listen, I'm not saying our hypothesis is any better than those of the whale researchers who spend their lives trying to understand the behaviour of these animals. I am saying we better watch out until someone can offer us definitive evidence that the whales aren't trying to take over.