2023: The Year Animals Fought Back

Perhaps in the future, we'll look back and say: It all started with the orcas.
A collage of a hippo, otter, shark and seal in front of a swilring
Looking back on the biggest stories of the year.

Are humans okay? Genuine question – there’s a tendency towards the end of a year to try and sum up what just happened, but 2023 felt like one big existential chaos. Real things became AI-generated deepfakes and memes were buried under so many layers of irony that we all got confused. The Oxford English Dictionary went with “rizz” as the general vibe. The contrast in our two biggest films seemed to encapsulate the turmoil: One being about the biggest, quickest way we might wipe ourselves out (Oppenheimer), and the other being the pinkest, campest romp you can imagine (Barbie, obviously).


It all becomes a lot clearer when you consider the true main characters of 2023 might not be us at all – but everything else on this planet. Maybe this was the year humans finally became the comic-relief side-character and the animals took centre stage.

It started with the orcas: In spring, it was reported that killer whales had started ramming into boats. What began as one small pod in Gibraltar expanded into a series of over 500 attacks by July, until some scientists speculated this might have been more of an organised attack, an “uprising”, if you like. The orcas – it was suggested – had seen the way we’d taken over their ocean, and were taking their “revenge”.

It was a chilling prospect – most of us feel some level of guilt about the way we’re destroying the planet, but the idea that animals know what we’re doing too? We’re fucked. Over the next few months, other creatures seemed to start making their feelings known. In July, a clip went viral of an otter trying to steal a guy’s surfboard and swim away with it. Otters in Santa Cruz, California, had apparently never gone anywhere near the surfers before, but they’d become fearless and spent weeks approaching swimmers and leaving bite marks in their boards.

In the same month, off the Florida coast, it emerged that sharks – dubbed “cocaine sharks” – had potentially been taking whole bales of cocaine dropped by our drug smugglers and gobbling them up. British marine biologist Tom Hird said the sharks were exhibiting “peculiar behaviours”. In February, a new cross-breed of “incredibly intelligent, highly elusive” super-pigs went feral in the U.S., with fears they may be becoming better evolved at surviving colder climates in northern states.

In the Netherlands, researchers from two Dutch natural history museums discovered that birds had started stealing the anti-bird spikes put up by humans and using them for their own nests. Most interestingly, alongside re-versioning the contraptions to build their own homes, the birds are also using the spikes for the same reason we do: to keep other birds out. Meanwhile, the “cocaine hippos” that Pablo Escobar smuggled into Colombia in the 80s have started shagging like crazy and overrunning the streets – scientists are now having to figure out very expensive ways to euthanise and deport them.

The more the animals organised, the more humanity descended into chaos. At this point, the bird-website we all used to scream at each other had been replaced by a big, black apocalyptic “X” – and then came the bed bugs. When infestations started rising in Paris, videos soon started emerging of the pea-sized anarchists on cinema seats, in restaurants, on buses. The Eurostar began ordering deep cleans to stop them crossing the channel and people stopped sitting down on tubes.

If there’s one way to bring down a civilisation, this would be it: Rows and rows of discarded mattresses lining the streets of Paris, overlooking the Eiffel Tower. Humans, it looks something like the end of an era.