A group of divers near the Caribbean island of Dominica were engulfed in a mighty cloud of shit churned out by a sperm whale. The men were on a routine expedition to photograph the whales when one of their subjects started blasting an ungodly amount of butt butter into the ocean while spinning in circles, causing what one of the divers called a "poonado." Showing no mercy, the beast didn't stop until a 100-foot-wide cloud of its Mississippi mud had coated the divers and their equipment.
In a show of unwavering dedication to his craft, Canadian photographer Keri Wilk managed to capture the experience on film. Some believe the torrent of rusty nuggets was a little known defense mechanism, triggered by the proximity of the divers. On the other hand, it could have just been a spastic, diarrheic beast—that's how little we understand about whales and their insane, magical shits.
"The whale bobbed up and down, spun in circles, and waved the poo in every direction for several minutes while we just sat back and watched," The Telegraph quoted Wilk as saying of the ordeal.
He went on:
"After a few waves of feces were released and stirred vigorously by the whale, the water was like chocolate milk. I couldn't see my hand when I held it in front of my face. I had poop in my eyes, mouth, wetsuit, everywhere and I was soaked in it from head to toe. But, after leaving the cloud, it quickly washed away, and didn't leave a smell on us. I did take an extra long shower once I had returned to shore later that day, just in case. I've never heard of it happening before, and I don't know anyone that has had this happen, it very well could be the first time that it has been photographically documented."
This lack of prior documentation doesn't necessarily mean that the "poonado" is new or a fluke. Despite measuring in at 50 to 60 feet long and 35 to 45 tons, and moving throughout all of the world's oceans at times in pods of 15 to 20 (although males tend to travel solo), we don't know a lot about sperm whales—not even how many there are, although we estimate about 100,000 .
"In many respects, sperm whales are still a total mystery,"
Christopher Kemp , who wrote a book about ambergris (a poop-ish substance excreted by sperm whales), told VICE last year. "Because they spend so much time a mile beneath the surface, we don't know about lots of aspects of their lives. We don't know how they mate, where they travel, how they get there, or when they go there. We don't know how they communicate with one another. We don't know how they manage to capture that many squid, and whether there's a particular hunting technique they use."
What we do know is that they take awe-inspiring shits that would make god himself tremble. We also know that they have the largest brains on earth (their heads are up to 40 percent of their bodies , although much of that is full of a mysterious, waxy oil called spermaceti , prized alongside their meat and oil as a lubricant that fueled the 18-19th century whaling boom and gave birth to Moby Dick). They can dive down to 4,000 feet and hold their breath for nearly two hours. They do battle with giant squids , the cephalopods constituting four-fifths of their diet. And when they die after a murky but probably human-like lifetime, their nutrient-rich carcasses foster unique pockets of life on the seafloor for ages thereafter.
Related: "You Don't Know Shit - Part 1"
From what we know about the massive colon cannonballs fired by sperm whales, they are just as extraordinary as the animal they come from. Over the past few years, biologists have determined that whale waste may actually act like a giant environmental regulation system. Full of iron and other vital nutrients , concentrated at up to 10,000,000 times their natural occurrence in seawater, when released these turds become the basis for booms in plankton. These critters in turn pull hundreds of thousands of pounds of carbon out of the air each year through photosynthesis, then fuel booms in fish populations as a food source. So the lack of the natural environmental engineering power of whale poop, thanks to whaling's decimation of the species, may be one major causes of oceanic depopulation .
Whales' alimentary tracts also produce ambergris, a fatty lump created to coat and pass squid beaks along with all the other excreta. Only shat out by some whales, and killing others through intestinal blockages, ambergris is an underground and little understood commodity (and the subject of a great Bob's Burgers episode) valued as a status symbol and (for its unique and binding scent) component of traditional perfumes, fetching $1,000 to $5,000 or more per pound.
Even if we haven't seen many whales use their filth as a defense mechanism, compared to its use as an aquacultural regulator and luxury good repository, it wouldn't be an especially odd phenomenon. Nor would whales be the only creatures to use their own toilet orphans as a defense mechanism.
Many animals, like the Komodo dragon , cover themselves in their own ass gobblins to gross out predators. Of particular note, the baby Hoopoe (the national bird of Israel) , in addition to secreting a repellant and antibacterial fluid from a gland near its ass, can squirt its shit into an attacker's face. Whereas the chrysomelidae (a.k.a. potato or cereal) beetle covers its back in a self-shit shield, scented with noxious nightshade to act as dual chemical-fecal gross out armor.
If this "poonado" was a newly observed defense mechanism, then the divers have made a great discovery. If not, they just got covered in shit. It's really hard to say what the reality is. But even if it's the latter, they got some great pictures out of the experience, and witnessed one of nature's most prolific and fascinating dumpers in action. Not a bad tradeoff for a fleeting brown shower.
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