‘Atlantic’ Writer Calls Orcas ‘Sadistic Jerks,’ Says We Shouldn’t Defend Them

Killer whales are sinking yachts off the Iberian coast, and Yale graduate Jacob Stern is fully team yacht.

‘Atlantic’ Writer Calls Orcas ‘Sadistic Jerks,’ Says We Shouldn’t Defend Them
Photo:Getty (Getty Images)

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you know by now that killer whales are… orcanizing. They are attacking and sometimes sinking boats and yachts off the Iberian coast, reportedly led by a female whale named White Gladis who experienced a “critical moment of agony” with a boat, perhaps being hit by its rudder. Considering that southern resident killer whales are endangered and that humans have been fucking up their habitats and hunting them for centuries, most people took the orcas’ side in the orca vs. yacht sea war.

But not Jacob Stern! The Atlantic staff writer wrote—and his editors decided to publish—a whole anti-orca screed on Saturday with the headline, “Killer Whales Are Not Our Friends,” subhed, “Stop rooting for the orcas ramming boats.” I read the piece so you don’t have to, and its thesis is, killer whales are actually dark, bad-intentioned creatures not worthy of our defense. He came after media outlets referring to them as our “orca comrades” (yes, we literally did this). His words, emphasis mine:

Media figures and academics are expressing solidarity with their “orca comrades” and support for “orca saboteurs.” One widely circulating graphic shows a pod smashing a boat from below, above the words “JOIN THE ORCA UPRISING.” (You can even purchase it in sparkly sticker form.) Yet all of this fandom and projection tends to overlook important facts: First, these orcas are likely to be playing with the boats rather than attacking them, and second, if one insists on judging killer whales in human terms, it’s plain to see they aren’t heroes but sadistic jerks.

Sadistic jerks? Strong words for a whale. What’s the evidence for this? Stern is happy to provide it:

What about all the other “evidence” we have of orcas’ cruelty, or even wickedness? Scientists say they hunt and slaughter sharks by the dozen, picking out the liver from each one and leaving the rest of the carcasses to rot uneaten. Orcas kill for sport. They push, drag, and spin around live prey, including sea turtles, seabirds, and sea lions. Some go so far as to risk beaching themselves in order to snag a baby seal—not to consume, but simply to torture it to death. Once you start applying human ethical standards to apex predators, things turn dark fast.

There’s a lot going on here, but I’ll start by saying this: No one who was tweeting or writing cheeky stories about our “orca comrades” actually believes that we were in a union with orcas, organizing against economic injustice and holding out for a contract with the yacht owners. No one was earnestly suggesting that these orcas are capable of class analysis and specifically going after rich people as an anticapitalist statement. Any solidarity the people expressed with these marine animals was a cheeky, satirical way to say, yes, we have badly fucked up their habitats, and yes, we generally support them defending their right to exist more than we care about any damage incurred to leisure boats. It shouldn’t be controversial to say that we’d like to see these majestic creatures thrive and survive, despite the horrors humanity has wrought upon the ocean.

Of course, it’s fine to publish takes that go against the grain and inspire debate, and The Atlantic certainly likes to do that. I just really can’t see the value in publishing an anti-whale take at this moment in time—especially one that characterizes the whole species as “sadistic jerks” because they engage in normal predator activities like “hunting and slaughtering” other animals (which humans also do, but to a worse extent times infinity). Jezebel certainly doesn’t have the readership of The Atlantic—but even if not a goddamn soul in the world reads this, I just couldn’t Jacob Stern have the last word on orcas.

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