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Study Suggests Neanderthals & Killer Whales Collaborated to Catch Tuna in the Strait

Rosario Pérez

Marine biologist at the Aquea Foundation, Manu Esteve, argues that wild tuna has been a delicacy in the Strait since prehistoric times.

Neanderthals & Killer Whales Catch Tuna Strait of Gibraltar
Neanderthal Statues at the Gibraltar National Museum

The first “casting of the nets” (called “almadrabas” in Spanish) in Cádiz took place in Conil de la Frontera this April 20th, and saw some 30 wild tuna being captured, marking the start of the fishing season, a tradition which dates back 3,000 years.

New studies suggest that tuna was also a delicacy coveted by our prehistoric ancestors, long before even the most basic fishing gear was invented.

Without a doubt, one of the most surprising studies was released this April during the premier of the “Naturaleza y biodiversidad” in “Conversaciones Aquae” which is the Aquea Foundations podcast. According to the podcast: “orcas and Neanderthals consciously collaborated together to hunt tuna in the Strait of Gibraltar”.

Neanderthals & Killer Whales Catch Tuna Strait of Gibraltar

This research by marine biologist and animal behaviouralist Manu Esteve, is based on analysis of archaeological remains and whale behaviour, “this collaborative relationship between orcas and Neanderthals was intentional and verified by the fact that, in order to flee the killer whales, the tuna would jump onto the beach where the hominids would capture them and throw unwanted fish parts back into the sea”.

The agency also included a podcast by biologist Mónica Fernández-Aceytuno’s, giving the Aquea audience to get an insight into her latest work on inter-species relationships and connections. They specified that these findings are based on “archaeological remains found in the area, and in the behavioural study of mammals when hunting tuna as they made their way through the Strait of Gibraltar and then into the waters of the Balearic Islands”.

Fossil Deposits Found Within the Caves of Gibraltar

“In fact, according to the records of fossils found in the caves of the Neanderthals in Gibraltar, it was found that these people ate on tuna, despite lacking the tools or boats to fish them”.

In this respect, Manu Esteve’s research maintains that, in a bid to escape the jaws of the killer whales, the tunas would accidentally beach themselves on the shore.

Gorhams-Cave-Gibraltar-National-Museum
Gorhams Cave @Gibraltar National Museum

“Based on these observations, Esteve’s thesis is that Neanderthals took advantage of this to catch the tuna, and, far from this behaviour being fortuitous for both the hominids and the killer whale, the collaboration was intentional, becuase the killer whales benefitted from the fish remains that were cast back into the sea by the hominids”, the press release reads.

“It is a hypothesis that I defend and support in the Theory of Emerging Properties and in the cunning of the killer whales … How did the killer whales, who are so intelligent, not find a method to cut the retreat of the tunas and escape to the beach? Maybe they wanted them to jump on the beach,” says the researcher in the podcast reported by the Europa Press, arguing that both species benefited.

The last Neanderthals

It should be noted that various studies, also carried out by these researchers, maintain that the Neanderthals in the Gibraltar area were “the last to live on the planet.”

Pleistocene Gibraltar Savanna

These scholars recall that “the killer whales have to make a great effort to catch tuna in the wild, with chases of up to 30 minutes, for 7 or 10 kilometres, which end with the tuna exhausted or dying of a heart attack, and that is when the orcas capture them”.

According to Esteve’s thesis, published in Conversaciones Aquae, “it is very likely that the killer whales discovered that it was much less of an effort to corner tuna in groups, and cause them to beach themselves in exchange for the remains thrown back by the Neanderthals”.

This “collaboration” would also explain why, according to the scientist, “the inhabitants of these prehistoric settlements were able to feed on tuna without having the technology to capture them.”

Killer Whales: “highly developed intelligence”

Neanderthals & Killer Whales Catch Tuna Strait of Gibraltar

The expert adds that in his latest field work in the Strait of Gibraltar, he has been able to verify how “two families of semi-resident killer whales in the area, and linked the migration of these fish, far from chasing tuna, they snatch specimens from artisanal fishermen with bait, once these fish were hooked”.

According to Esteve, this behaviour “follows the highly developed intelligence of the killer whales, which allows them to establish close proximity to humans.”

“There has always been a relationship between orcas and men and that is one of the topics that I wanted to explore: the relationship that different cultures have had with orcas in Alaska, British Columbia, or Kamchatka”, added the researcher during the podcast, which has been the subject of debate among experts.

It should be remembered that, at present, wild tuna from Almadraba, which is caught only between April and June, has become a gastronomic tradition in the province of Cádiz and Andalusia as a whole, which is why it has become the subject of all manner of studies in the university and the scientific fields.

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